To fuel their immense bodies, giraffes consume seventy-five pounds of vegetation each day. In a neat closing of the ecological circle, their browsing stimulates new growth and thus helps propagate the very plants they consume.
—Lynn Sherr, journalist, 1997
I’m amazed that the giraffe sleeps only about thirty minutes each day with rest periods broken into six five-minute naps. The alert animal constantly grazes to discover new areas to feed because if the herd stands for too long and becomes static, it risks being attacked by its main predator—the lion.
Like the giraffe, companies and employees must move forward, resting less than in past decades. Doing so can be difficult, especially when a new technology disrupts the serene landscape we’re comfortable grazing in. I’ve learned to appreciate the act of dreaming, a useful tool when you’re dealing with significant change and a sturdy technique to keep moving forward.
Dreaming unleashes a person’s uniqueness, which is vital to company learning. If businesses today don’t shape a climate for personal dreaming, they’ll end up stuck in the twentieth century’s traditional planning, becoming myopic and functional but not responsive to change by implementing the strongest ideas to move forward.
MIT’s Peter Senge warns that you can’t just run off to the annual planning meeting and articulate personal dreams through a forty-eight-hour weekend on a luxurious mountaintop retreat. Twenty-first-century leaders must encourage imagination as a daily ritual, making it as important as a solitary morning walk. Meetings create a veneer dream because they’re coordinated and structured, with a facilitator guiding attendees through the process while notes are taken, and then everyone goes back to work. In what should be a fading model, original thinking is never fully integrated.
There’s hope, however, that more companies and organizations will shift from last century’s style of acting “busy” to a new environment of calmly moving forward to feed like the giraffe—to appreciate that the quiet dreamer should be encouraged to come up and wrestle with personal ideas before presenting them within a team, where creative feedback will help shape the individual’s dream into a broader vision that one day can be tested in the real-time business world.
Today’s technology is bringing freedom to our shrinking planet. Thomas Friedman highlighted the trend in his book The World Is Flat. It’s always been a universal truth, from the hammer to the Gutenburg press, yet today it’s affecting more humans than ever. In 1969 poet William Stafford wrote about the importance of this frequently used abstraction that we use casually and rarely define through a unique angle. Stafford, however, defines the vague umbrella term of “freedom” as something that could benefit all.
Freedom is not following a river.
Freedom is following a river,
though, if you want to.
It is deciding now by what happens now.
It is knowing that luck makes a difference.
No leader is free; no follower is free—
the rest of us can often be free.
Most of the world are living by
creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming
to be worth arguing about by reason.
If you are oppressed, wake up about
four in the morning; most places
you can usually be free some of the time
if you wake up before other people.
Being able to make a decision is the essence of “freedom.” Stafford suggests that if you literally “wake up about four in the morning…before other people,” you’ll have some room to be free.
Does freedom require “enough space” so that we can be ourselves, so that we can dream and be original, creative, optimistic, and productive?
Does “wake up” also mean we wake up our attitudes, so we’re not simply following a river selected by the traditional CEO or manager but rather choosing to follow a certain river?
Last century most leaders made independent decisions, but were they actually limited and constrained by a business model designed to ensure the loyalty of followers and the success of the leaders’ policies?
We must break the industrial-age model in which “No leader is free; no follower is free” because both the leader and follower follow that powerfully flowing, one-direction river, rather than choose to follow a river if they want to.
To encourage individuals to dream and continually move forward, leaders must create genuine environments in which people don’t have to “wake up about four in the morning” to be independent, self-reliant, and make decisions. They need daily work settings that encourage them to be unswayed by the attitudes, expectations, or edicts of others. We need enough space so that each day leads us to imagine controversial, quirky, and unique ideas like those at Google, Amazon, and Apple—innovations that are changing not only business but also the planet.
Stafford may be stating that to be truly free we must not become prisoners of trends, groupthink, ideology, or tradition. Instead leaders today must encourage employees to question, to trust their ideas, and to continue to grow if they are truly free, which requires twenty-first-century choice, not twentieth-century following.