Daunting Challenges and the Ignition of The Purpose-Finding Imagination

A friend wanted to explore a difficulty.  She began by indicating it would be interesting to see how positive leadership could possibly apply to her challenge.  She is involved in a collective endeavor that could very much impact the welfare of the planet and also produce billions of dollars in wealth.  Powerful interests have recognized the potential and have become involved.  Yet many of the involved people are acting from such extreme self-interest that the overall effort is in serious jeopardy.  It took twenty minutes to describe the all the conflicts.  My first reaction was to see the problem as hopeless.

As she finished, I made the conscious choice to turn to the perspective of social excellence and explore the kind of questions that invite people into the fundamental state of leadership.  We explored avenues for self-empowerment and increased leverage; surprisingly, we found some.  This created a small spark of positive energy.

Then, instead of focusing on the existing situation as a problem–which nature trains all of us to do–we focused on the highest purpose and envisioned win-win scenarios.  As we did, new images emerged.  We evaluated the new images and then came to another surprising discovery.  Instead of asking the participants for difficult commitments that would ensure survival of the enterprise, my friend needed to ask for even greater commitments that would ensure flourishing over the long term.  There was something stunning about this turn, this call to fully serve the most excellent possible future.

We then began to shape a strategy in which my friend would articulate the best future for each involved person, articulate the specific payoffs, and the necessary commitments.  These were the kind of commitments they had been previously avoiding.  She would invite the group to share better alternatives if they had them.  She would then invite people to make hard decisions.

As we finished, we were both filled with hope and excitement.  While we both recognized the new strategy did not guarantee success, we both felt confident that a visionary, collective, ethical, strong stance was the best way forward.

What transpired in this conversation seemed to be no small thing.  As we finished, I had a sense of awe.  So I made space to seriously ponder what had happened.

In a relationship of trust, we explored a daunting challenge.  It was natural to be entrapped in the logic of problem solving.  We made a shift.  We engaged the empowering logic of purpose finding.  Logic is a dumb servant of the current imagination.  The problem-solving imagination is reactive; it seeks a return to equilibrium.  The purpose-finding imagination is proactive; it seeks purpose, surfaces conflict, and co-creates a new order.  The new order orbits around the highest good and the co-creation of social excellence.

As we progressed, our conversation became an evolving, high-quality connection.  The level of positivity in our emotions and thoughts spiraled upward.  We were respectfully listening and creatively exploring.  This means we were socially constructing new possibilities.  We were engaged in an emergent system of symbiotic learning.  We were co-creating social excellence and it inspired both of us.

My friend was about to go out and boldly attempt to lead people into the co-creation of a better world.  She was in the fundamental state of leadership.  She was high on task, ethically sound, empathetic and open to the further co-creation of social excellence.



  • Why was it stunning to envision asking the participants to serve the most excellent possible future by making even greater commitments than the ones they were already resisting?
  • Why did the shift from problem solving to purpose finding allow other inspiring images to emerge?
  • At this moment in your work, are you boldly attempting to lead people into the co-creation of a better world? How could you get yourself into such a state?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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