Why day dreaming is an essential skill for leaders

Posted on: Monday 21, March 2016
Category: Thought Leadership

This article explores why you as leaders need to daydream to grow your future business. Today’s vision is tomorrow’s reality.

Originally published in 2014 for several online magazines. Also featured on BBC World Service.

[4 minutes reading time] 

I propose that every leadership team needs to spend time daydreaming. It’s an essential leadership quality. It will help you build a high performing team, look to your future, and grow your business.

However, leadership teams can find it a tough ask to spend time out planning for the future. For many leaders the day to day demands of business takes priority. Also, on the whole, senior people prefer dealing with real, concrete activities. So for some people being creative and conjuring up new possibilities is unfamiliar ground and considered tricky.

I have heard Executive Teams call it ‘star gazing’ and dismiss it as a waste of time. The pursuit of profit the ‘naysayers state, comes from focusing on the here-and-now!

I believe that this is fixed mindset and it misses the point. Today’s leadership challenges are more than running a business for profit.  High performing teams want to have a meaning and purpose to do work that matters and contributes to making the world better. Daydreaming comes in handy here to generate new ways of thinking and for Setting 'big goals.'

Okay, so you get the idea, but perhaps you don’t know where to start? Here're some thoughts how to get the ball rolling for your team.

Balcony time.

A core part of leadership is to spend time out working on the future of your business. Having a few team off-site days gets you away from working in the day-to-day of your business. I call future planning 'balcony time’. Being here takes you away from the busyness of the ‘dance floor.' It gives you time out to step-up, raise your thinking above the day-to-day, and take stock of your business from new vistas.

Balcony time permits you as a leadership team to plan ahead and work towards your future, overcome issues, or a new business vision. It also empowers you to break down your vision into workable ‘chunks.'  Ideas are not good enough; you have to plan and take action.

High performing teams do exactly that. They spend balcony time to realign themselves to their purpose and plan their future direction.  

  • Here are some useful questions about your business to get you started:
  • What has happened? How did we get to this point?
  • Where is the business today?  
  • What is the overall business climate doing to our clients and us?
  • What is and isn't working for us today?
  • What do we need to do and by when?  
  • What do we desire? What is our future potential?
  • What’s in it for us as leaders?

However, as outlined above, you may feel that this sort of balcony thinking is a luxury. Every business has pressing short-term demands that require attention. Addressing these are management activities.  However, as leaders, the day-to-day issues shouldn’t take up all your time as well.

High performing leadership teams use balcony time as a necessary long-term investment.

If you don’t spend sufficient quality time on your business’s future direction – then the chances are your business doesn’t have much of a future!

Being 'in your face a little' - daydreaming is a leadership duty for running any successful business.

Got your attention now? Okay! Now read on.

The Daydreams of Famous People.

Thomas Elva Eddison got his lightbulb moment when he invented it.

Einstein created the theory of relativity by daydreaming about travelling on light beams.

Graham Bell and Henry Ford used daydreaming to change the world.

J.F. Kenedy had a dream too when he addressed Congress with this clear message in 1961

Remember too, Martin Luther King's famous speech: "I have a dream..." that changed the face of American social politics on the steps of the Lincon Memorial in 1963.

If they can get results from daydreaming, then so can you too!

A Practical Process for Daydreaming…

Daydreaming needs a rugged process that guides you to access those big dreams I mentioned. Thinking ‘out of the box’ for a while takes courage too.

A well-designed daydreaming process will permit you to shift gears and get your mindset into the right place. It will help to drive you towards new options, choices, and possibilities that you might not have dared think before. New insights, connections, and ideas emerge.

Daydreaming is important because it has no boundaries, walls or barriers – anything becomes possible. And out of this, new realities can form.

Walt Disney knew all about daydreaming too. He credited his huge run of box-office smash hits to his creative three-step process for planning great films. His process was named: ‘The Disney Strategy.'

He would take his entire team, made up of a mixed group of skilled and talented people into a series of three separate rooms.

Each room had a different name, purpose, a rule, and a unique thinking approach.

The entire team would spend as much time as necessary in each room before moving to the next room in the sequence. In this way, the key components that made up a film were tested and teased out using these different thinking approaches.

So if it's good enough for Walt Disney, then Perhaps it's good enough for your business too!

Leaders I have used this approach with tell me, they found the process, interactive and stimulating. It helped them enrich their thinking to plan ahead. Instead of rooms, I use separate phases. It's all about engaging the different sides of the brain at different times.

How Does Daydreaming Work?

Imagine for a moment that you have a mental slider in your head. This slider allows you to swap between different modes of thinking (your left and right brain). At one end of the slider, you can access your critical thinking part - and this takes mental effort. At the other end of the slider, you can learn to relax your mind. Here you engage your creative and intuitive thinking part. With me so far?

We are all familiar with how to think critically and objectively from our school days. You use this way of thinking in business too. But relaxed, holistic, creative and intuitive thinking methods have no defined rules. That doesn’t mean you should ignore this part of your mental capabilities, though.

Occasionally, leaders, I work with at first recoil in horror at the mention of using intuition or creative thinking. They claim they are not good at it, or it is too fuzzy for business use.

However, this is not true. We can all use our imagination and creative abilities. It simply needs teasing out. The current vogue in mindfulness is setting out to re-address that. Employed in the right way creative thinking in a group setting is a powerful resource. It's why daydreaming as a process is a ‘game-changer.'

Wrapping up:

Back to those mental sliders again. A leadership quality of becoming a high performing team is to learn to push your mental slider to the creative end of thinking.

So does this mean as a leader that you no longer need to push your mental slider back to using your critical thinking? Certainly not! Day-to-day decisions still need your know-how and your reasoning brain to think rationally. Because you've already developed that, you won’t lose it. However, my challenge to you is that your future success will come more readily if you make time for those 'balcony moments we talked about earlier.

The hallmark of a successful leader is one who can develop flexibility. The trick is to shift back and forth, from one mode of thinking to another. The more adept you become at sliding between these different thinking styles, the better leader you become. And of course, your business will benefit.

So as leaders it is crucial that you start to buy-in to spending some of your time 'on the balcony' of your business and daydream to shape your future.


[Word Count 1,300]

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A timely reminder Andrew Jenkins ... your posts always seem to appear at the just right time ...


A great read, thank you Andrew

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