I is for Imagination and the art of being the changes we seek

Originally published 17 May 2017.

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I had the pleasure last month of presenting at the SIOP Conference (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology). I ran sessions on narrative leadership in which I showed how a deeper understanding of our stories can support a more human approach to change. It was serendipitous in that we were meeting at Disneyworld, pioneers in user experience. I could see how diligent the participants were in executing on the change objectives they were given, and how appreciative they were of being invited to imagine how they would like to engage people in change instead.

To meaningfully engage with change, people need to see themselves as an:

  • Author of their stories so they can imagine new ways of being

  • Actor in stories with others so they can imagine new ways of relating

  • Agent in narratives around them so they can imagine new ways of working

  • Activist for better narratives so they can imagine new ways of making a difference

The ability to imagine enables us to mentalize, be empathetic and be emotionally agile. It enables us to transcend our current reality to create new possibilities and reconfigure our current narratives to develop ourselves and others. Imagination is critical in organizational change in order to avoid the all-to-familiar re-shuffling of the same deck chairs by a select few and move toward more agile, participatory methods like we use with narrative design.

The photo above from the Wizard of Oz offers two important insights to guide us in approaching change in a new way: (1) We don't have to wait for burning platforms (or wicked witches) to bring about change—but can trust that we have the capacity for choice within us at all times; and (2) meaningful and sustainable change cannot be forced from the outside or 'managed'—it can only be engaged from the inside and leveraged.

This feels particularly relevant in these turbulent times. As Václav Havel writes, the main question before us is whether or not we can succeed in "making human community meaningful, in returning content to human speech, in reconstituting, as the focus of all social action, the autonomous, integral, and dignified human ‘I.’ ”

Sandy Lurins