I Love Stupid Dreams
by Dan McClure
Amy’s on the phone and begins, “I know this is stupid but …”. Ah, this is good, exactly what I love to hear. Go on.
“What I’d really like to do with my career is go to lunch with fascinating people and just talk about amazing things. Then I’d like to come home and read all sorts of things and when I’m all done, write something that makes sense of it all.”
She doesn’t know who she would sell this too to or how she’d make it pay. She has no proof or plan, other than knowing this is something she would love to do and that she would be incredibly good at it.
For years we’ve lived in an economy that prized responsible ambitions, published products for serving the world as it is. A promotion. A proven career. A college degree. They all are packaged up versions of life in the status quo. Pick one and follow the instructions.
Frankly, I could care less whether you want to be the youngest vice president in your company, or retire by the time you’re 45. I’m indifferent to your plans for a promotion next year.
Those are mass market aspirations, impoverished dreams adopted for their current utility. In the old industrial economy, if we squeezed our soul tightly enough it was possible to fit in any box and eventually claim the reward of “success”. It was dirty work, but at least it was what responsible and prudent people did.
After all, artists starve. Accountants buy boats. Right?
… In a World Looking for Neon Boots
No, that’s not right. Seeing this today makes me sad. I hate to see great talent made into something small, and particularly when it’s done for misguided reasons. You are choosing sensible shoes in a world that will soon demand knee high neon boots.
An innovation driven economy is rushing toward us. It is a major economic shift on par with the replacement of agriculture by mass production two hundred years ago. It’s a new world where everything commonplace will either be automated or copied. Few jobs shaped to fit conventional boxes will survive the repeated waves of obsolescence propelled by exploding new technologies, a growing army of innovators, and a wide open global marketplace.
The coming economy is driven by the competitive need to create unique and original value. No one can afford to follow proven paths that worked two years ago. Average is out. Eclectic and exceptional is in.
It’s deliciously ironic that the mass market world is being turned upside down by the dreams it marginalized. Get ready for a change. You’ll need some exceptional big neon boot possibilities.
Dreaming From a Different Place
Stupid dreams seem stupid because they place more value on our inner nature than the apparent constraints of the outside world. They are tantalizing because at some deep personal level they are rooted in the secret hopes and wishes of who we really are.
They have a special energy and capability to inspire. Even with their obvious impracticality there is a voice that says, this is a good use of who I am. The world should want this. I should be able to sell this. I just can’t figure out how.
Say it out loud to yourself. Try words like, “Imagine if …” “How could I (we) …” “What I’d really love is …”
Then scrunch up your courage. Say it out loud to someone else. Draw on a bar napkin. Watch their face. There’s energy in a dream whose principal fault is its impracticality. In a world starved for audacious hopes, these are the seeds of quests and adventures.
Try this too. Find a place. Sit back. Close your eyes. Make a movie in your mind of this dream in action. Don’t worry about how you would get from here to there, but visualize what “there” looks like, how it sounds, what people’s expressions are, and how the energy feels.
My stupid dream’s movie was fashioned while lying next to a hotel pool in Sacramento, California. In frustration I had skipped out on yet another afternoon of back to back meetings. I needed a better dream. What I see in this mental film is a classic entrepreneur’s loft, loud, filled with people talking and waving hands at ideas. There are wooden floors and brick walls. White boards float in mid air, waiting at the beckon call of a flick of the hand.
A man rushes in from Istanbul or Ithaca, waving a piece of paper covered in frantic scribbles. Another messy wicked problem! It’s grabbed by the nearest person and they start yelling out names. We’ll need Ted for vision. Where’s Aly, there’s a story to be told here. And we have to have Dawn’s ability to marshal action. It’s like assembling a team of super heroes. Everyone brings a special talent that is obvious and honored. We feel the urgency of need and the potential glory of doing the impossible.
The Dream You Deserve
That’s it, maybe a one minute video in my mind. I had no path forward. There was no plan for turning it into reality, but in the years that followed those snapshots seeped into my thinking and shaped my perspective. Stupid dreams can change you. They changed me.
Tomorrow (if not already today) you will need a dream that is about you, a dream about what makes you special. You’ll need a stupid dream.
So, if we meet, and you’re in a mood to talk, I’ll buy the refreshments. I love stupid dreams. Stupid dreams are the beginning of amazing stories and an amazing story is certainly worth the price of a good beer.
Originally published at www.thoughtworks.com on March 29, 2015.