Imagination and Courage

An old friend described his very demanding and unrewarding job. He has been doing it for a long time and is likely to continue until he retires. As he spoke of his situation, I thought of something William James wrote in 1907: “Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.”
A few days later, I met a young man. He is 24 and just retired from minor league baseball. He throws a 91 mile an hour fastball. Ten years ago, he would have been a promising star.   Some pitchers are pushing 100 miles an hour. At the end of spring training, management met with him and three others.
They informed the four that the organization had eight people of equal ability. They could only keep four. The four in the room were all 24 or older. The four they were keeping were 21 or younger.
The news was devastating. My young friend, however, could see other options in life and was ready to move on. In some ways, he was excited to do so. He talked, for example, about going back to school and becoming a physician’s assistant.
He said two of the others only knew baseball and could imagine no other alternative. His guess is that they would bounce around the minor leagues as long as they could. The image, like the previous one, weighed on me.
I thought of a line from Tom Rath: “You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”
The ability to imagine a more meaningful life is important. The courage to pursue a more meaningful life is crucial. The courage often comes from the discovery of self and the articulation of a higher purpose and provides the courage to engage in the process of becoming.
Managers do not link to this challenge but leaders do. Leaders recognize that animating people is a key of organizational success. They help people imagine and pursue higher purpose. They do this both collectively and individually. They focus on what can be and entice others to awake. They stoke the fires of imagination and courage and they open the drafts of individual and organizational life.

  • Do you have people whose “fires are damped and drafts are checked?”
  • Who have you helped to imagine a more meaningful life?
  • Who have you helped to articulate their highest purpose?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

2 comments on “Imagination and Courage

  1. Yes, but it takes a purposeful village, not our current rich-get-richer economic system. On a follow-up visit to Haiti in 2013 to study resilience in hurricane survivors, a bright young man told us that people with resources often had little vision and people with visions often had few resources. As U.S. business school students around the country learn more about positive organizational science this fall, will they break out of the vicious cycle of self-interested economic systems or replicate them?

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