Articulating The Practical Ground My Epic Vision Rests Upon

I was playing around with Apple’s new app Freeform recently, trying to discover the potential of it by viewing what other people were doing with it on YouTube, when I was reminded of Dave Gray’s amazing work on visual thinking with his company XPLANE.

How To Be An Engaging Practical Visionary

Doing a quick search, I found this awesome interview below with Dave, where he explains the importance of visual thinking in business, especially in the capacity of assisting people through change. Around the three minute mark, he begins to go into detail on the “head, heart, and hands” communication approach which was created by the Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.

One thing that was very different was in the old way of rolling out the strategy, there wasn’t a lot of dialogue between the managers and the employees about how to implement the strategy because they weren’t speaking the same language.

The managers were talking about the strategy in a very abstract, logical way. People didn’t understand why they should get excited about it. Why they should be motivated and engaged about it. They didn’t understand practically how that would apply in their daily work. How to translate that into action.

Dave Gray
“Head, Heart, Hands”, Dave Gray, Flickr

What’s Practically Missing?

What amazed me about this, while later reflecting upon it, is that this is the struggle I’ve been having with articulating my own work. In effect, I’ve been realizing that just trying to communicate my knowledge in a logical “head” way is insufficient for me because I’m more optimized for feelings. I would even say that this type of approach alone feels “empty and hollow”to me, as you are just regurgitating pieces of knowledge without it having any meaningful sense within a larger context or narrative.

Over time though, as I was learning this knowledge, keywords jumped out at me that related to my past work building communities online around video games and I realized that a lot of the knowledge metaphorically related to both Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and the heroic narrative of growth and progression found within MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.

But even though I didn’t need to find this metaphor, as it was emerging and taking on a life of its own, I still felt like when I interwove it with the knowledge relating to it, something still felt like it was missing. Perhaps what was missing is this practical “hands” perspective which makes one question, “Well this is a pretty epic, emotional vision you’ve shown me here but how does it relate to the experiences and challenges within my own life right now?”

In effect, the knowledge I was sharing most definitely embodied what was being communicated about The Future of Work and the metaphor embodied an emotional narrative of how similar it was to the playful adventure of the hero’s quest. But if you can’t connect these things to the typical challenges a person is experiencing in their own life right now, they’re not going to go along on the journey with you because it’s not going to feel relatable to them. It’s no different than beginning to read a story and not relating to the protagonist, thus the story doesn’t gain traction for you, so you give up reading it.

What’s The Question That Starts Your Quest?

What’s interesting about this is that last year, I sat down with my nephew and gave him an overview of what I was trying to do, because he has experience with game development and business development and I thought he might have some insights to assist me. After speaking at length, what kept revealing itself over and over to him (and finally to me near the end) is something similar. In effect, I had this epic, emotional, amazing vision which contained a lot of knowledge that could help people immensely but to use a gaming metaphor, I didn’t have my “kill ten rats” yet and I needed to figure that out.

In MMORPGs, typically when starting the game, you’re giving a really simple quest for your starting level, something the equivalent of kill ten giants rats say in the basement of a building within your starting city. This starting quest is designed as part of the onboarding experience to get you orientated with understanding the game mechanics and the class you’ve chosen (similar to how onboarding and orienteering are essential for a new employee to understand their new job within an organization).

More important than understanding what and how “kill ten rats” is though is the deeper why of it, specifically within the context of the character you’re playing as a player within the roleplaying game. If you imagine yourself as actually this character, you have to ask yourself, “What is inspiring them to step outside the norms of their life and become an adventurer, doing things within this first quest that previously seemed impossible to them, perhaps due to the fears involved with it?”

The Hero’s Journey: Stepping Outside Ourselves

To put this another way, prior to adventuring as a player character, you could think of the person as a non-player character who just lived their life by doing what they were told to do based upon their societal programming. So they never really questioned their world or their role within it, similar to Ryan Reynolds character at the beginning of the movie Free Guy. But then one day, something clicks and the person begins to question their life and playfully begins to learn to step out of it into a larger sense of self-identity that previously might have seemed impossible to them before.

Again, I can communicate this all in an epic, emotional way but what’s missing here is the practical perspective from the individual themselves which really creates and solidifies the connection, making the knowledge and metaphor truly come to life in a way that finally makes sense. To me, right now, the best things that articulate this practical perspective are the experiences I encountered two decades ago when the Dot-com Bubble burst and similarly with what people are experiencing today with the Great Resignation.

In effect, something is challenging and shattering the worldview of people (the way they look at themselves and their world), causing them begin to question it and thus begin a quest that causes them to step out of it and understand it better objectively, so that they can step into a newer, larger worldview of their own creation (which is the journey towards self-actualization). As Beau Lotto notes in his book Deviate, to go from A to B, you actually have to go from A to not-A first.

So many people today are going from A to not-A and they’re experiencing a lot of fear and doubt because of it, as the previously perceived stability of their old, outdated worldview is no longer stable in reality. William Bridges, the author of JobShift, describes this transition in three stages (ending, neutral zone, new beginning) and it is remarkably similar to the three stages of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (departure, initiation, return). In effect, we leave the old world, travel to a limbo world, and then return to a new world but in reality, we’re not really physically travelling anywhere, instead it’s our worldview that’s being reconstructed within us through the psychological inner journey itself (which explains why our mental health is so critical right now, as we struggle with this inner journey).

How To Catalyze Your Quest(ion)

I could end this here but something else popped into my head that relates to this all, especially in terms of what actually starts this adventure (i.e. kill ten rats) and begins your quest of questioning your worldview.

It was something that Carol Sanford reiterated over and over again in her new book Indirect Work. She indicated that people, when absorbing new information, often try to relate it to what they already know. This seems logical as they’re trying to relate to it and make sense of it. But the problem with this approach is that they then end up assuming they understand what you’re communicating, even if what you’re communicating is much deeper than what they currently understand at their level of consciousness (which relates to their worldview).

I encountered this exact very thing while reading the book myself. On my first pass, all I saw was what I wanted to see, making it relate to what I already knew in terms of the knowledge I had acquired over the years. But upon rereading the book in greater detail, I quickly realized that I had missed a lot of what she was trying to say on a deeper level and I actually began to learn and understand things at a deeper level as well.

This got me wondering though. Is there a way to communicate to others in such a way that it immediately challenges their way of thinking and worldview in a more evident fashion? After thinking about this for a while, the only way I could conceive of doing this was by using paradoxes, as they immediately cause a person to stop and question what they are reading, rather than automatically just absorbing it and assuming they know what they are reading.

You are only free when you realize you belong no place—­you belong every place—­no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

Maya Angelou

And finally, a perfect example of this is told as a story by Brené Brown in her book Braving The Wilderness, as she describes something her hero Maya Angelou said about belonging that made no sense to Brené at first and really got her angry, almost shattering her perspective of her hero initially. But because the quote made her immediately stop and question her hero, she questioned her own knowledge about belonging herself and thus was able to understand it at a much deeper level than she could have previously perceived which she calls true belonging as noted in her book’s subtitle (i.e. Braving The Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone).

All said and done though, what feels like is missing from the identity of my own work is a personal and practical perspective that provides a grounded cornerstone for people to relate to, thus allowing me to build a stable bridge from where they are at in their own daily lives right now to where they could be in a future vision of a better world(view). So in a sense, it creates a metaphorical map showing them where they are in relation to the larger context of changes occurring within the world right now, thus helping them to realize that they can actually navigate beyond the horizons of their mind without the fear of falling off the edge of it.

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for The Adventure of Your Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

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