They say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. Just as there is between passion and sentimentalism, realism and cynicism. The dreamers are the ones that cross that line and dare to express their deep feelings and extreme passions. To hell with convention and the chatter of the rational and the intellectuals. So, my question is: when has anything great come of cold realism, logic and pure analysis?
It is always a creative spark, a flash of inspiration, a passionate feeling that moves us – both figuratively and literally. It has always been that way, for better or for worse, with us humans.
And yet, where do we go for reassurance when ever a business problem confronts us? ‘Realism’, logic, scientific proof, justification. I worked at the United Nations for a few years. The UN undoubtedly does a huge amount of good work but it also seemed to me to be the epitome of this kind of thinking, and it seemed to slow down processes and stifle fresh thinking in many situations. I saw three levels of activity there. At the top, there were the political elite who, through solid achievement, their country’s financial contributions or through their connections within their own nation, held influential positions. In the middle of the sandwich was a highly intelligent group of people who had the near-impossible job of catching the political wind in which ever direction it was blowing, and ensuring that the whims, fashions and flavours of the month were knitted together and implemented across the international political landscape – while also getting a measurable result from everything they were tasked to do. Below them were the workers. Not wishing to make them sound inferior, these were the people with the passions, the ideas and the feeling that something good could be done and they were determined to play a worthy part in that. That is why they joined this revered organization. This is a terrible generalization, but without wishing to get into minute justification of all the variables and factors involved, this could be regarded as valid and, if you want to, I’m sure you can find evidence to support this view.
‘Realism’, in the form of scientific ‘proof’ and minute justification are very expensive and, for a number of reasons, their value can be questionable other than in affording protection by shifting responsibility. The UN produces a mountain of reports because of them. Each one can cost tens of thousands of dollars and may be read and used by just a few people. Many gather dust more efficiently. I feel it’s a real shame that so much valuable creative energy is being suppressed, while other valuable energy is being wasted. I feel that we would very often enjoy great benefits if we could find ways to embrace and nurture the passions and ideas that we often relegate to the bottom of the pile. In business, in life, in politics, in the world.
Even though we are trained to diminish their importance, it actually pays to be in tune with your feelings, and to acknowledge your passions. And it pays much more efficiently than not doing so. Take one example. I met someone the other day who has lived his life in tune with his feelings. He has been careful to take notice of those infinitely small signs that we can so easily dismiss as unimportant or unrealistic, to guide him along the way. He’s made over $20m, and he really doesn’t care about that. His passion is to bring his awareness to others so that they can play with life as he has done. Take another example. I have a good friend who has been battling to save the tuna from over-fishing by big companies for many years, to protect the small communities that rely on it for their survival as well as the species itself. Just recently I saw in the news that the European Commission has decided to implement protection measures. It was passion that drove the campaign – backed up by evidence and reasoning – that lead to a feeling that the control was necessary. That in turn led to the logical nuts and bolts of the process – an agreement and a resolution. There are many more examples I could give, and I am sure you can think of plenty for yourself.
In other words, I seem to be saying that we have our priorities upside-down. We need to learn to trust our hearts (is that our intuition?) before our heads, and not the other way around. It’s an illusion to think we can progress, or even just play safe, by keeping behind the yellow line. We need to drive the passion and get over the logic, the resistance and the negativity that we may encounter – then use our minds to implement the resulting solutions. There’s a gap. We can only cross it through trust in ourselves, a clear vision and strong will.
We have feelings, ideas and passions, but we find it so hard to run with them because the ogre of ‘realism’ gets in the way. And yet ‘realism’ is not actually real. It is only derived from collective beliefs, while progress is sparked by not buying into them. I experience this constantly. I have lots of ideas that I squash simply because of my perception that in order to manifest them I have to convince so many people who don’t share my passion, or that I have to do many things to realize that passion, and that involves doing stuff that I don’t feel so passionate about doing. Some of them get through though. And when they do, it’s always worth it – and more! Somehow the extra effort I put in – in the face of my own resistance and the resistance of other people and other things – leads to the manifestation of something that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Why it is that way, I don’t know, but it’s something I feel I need to re-learn every day. And there are plenty of reminders out there. Even Hollywood repeatedly uses it as a favourite theme. I suppose it’s because we all recognize the truth in it.
My message in this short blog, then, is to say that to get to the other side of that gap, we can’t just walk it tentatively or reasonably. We have to leap. We will never know for sure where we will land and how things will turn out, but by leaping, we definitely learn to fly.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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