How do you make the future realistic?
Over the past few months I’ve been struck by the constant and politically-trying challenges that people face within this network, and throughout Higher Education. Organisational restructure is a big one. Developing and deploying an understood and motivating strategy is another. Motivating people to embrace change, a third.
The common theme of these conversations has been the tension of creating a future which challenges the way people work – shifting their priorities, increasing (or diversifying) workload, or challenging the norm – and making the change that needs to happen not only acceptable, but desirable.
One of the strongest and sometimes overlooked tools at your disposal is narrative. It is in our very nature to understand a story, and it is an incredibly powerful, evocative and memorable motivator that can be referred back to time and again.
Consider Homer’s Iliad. You don’t have to know the story to know the outline. Set in ancient Troy, it involved heroes, gods, and a huge army. It was even made into a Hollywood blockbuster.
Now consider the Haynes manual guide to the Volkswagen GTI. Arguably, infinitely more helpful to our modern-day lives. But memorable? Engaging? Visionary? Arguably, less so.
The point is this: a narrative engages people because it is in our very nature to recognise in a story our own experiences. We can identify, empathise and understand narrative without being an expert.
If I’ve persuaded you that narrative is important, then something needs to be said about what you can actually do about creating one, and making the vision for whatever project you are working on be understood, inspiring and realistic.
- Explore the possibilities of free reign: what would it look like if you had infinite resources, support and time? What would it look like for those you need to bring with you on this journey? Make a list of words and phrases that capture this project-utopia. Are some of these more achievable than you first thought? If not, then is there a version of them that could work? If not, then what needs to change?
- Make the future understood and desirable: what are the sentiments that people use when they talk about the future of a project? If they are positive, then utilise them! Finding and acknowledging more than one voice in a project will enhance distributed ownership not just of the process but of the end result. If they are negative, then can you offer them a different view point? Share the positive sentiments: make room for the voices for all the people that need to be engaged to make the project a success.
- Challenge the preconceptions of your communication: we often replicate, knowingly or not, the tone of voice, format and style of others. But are all these three elements working to your advantage? Is there another way to engage with people that will shake them out of inertia, and make them sit up and listen?
- Incremental change: an oldie but a goody. There’s something about making the small wins count. No one can change the world in a day. It took Darwin over 20 years to release Origin of the Species. It was worth the wait.
These are only a selection of ideas to help find a realistic pathway to achieving the future you want to deliver. But they will hopefully be a prompt to make creating the future you need to deliver a little less distant and little more doable.
This blog was written by Louise Clifton, Director of Marketing, Communication and Operations with Invisible Grail. It was written on a particularly dreary Monday afternoon that challenged the author to practise as she preached, and find the inspiration to achieve a compelling blog within a realistic, if pressing, timeframe.
The techniques, inspiration and ideas discussed here are drawn from exercises Invisible Grail use on Writing your Future.