Let’s Stop Penalizing the Dreamers

DreamerI had a wonderful, powerful get-together the other day with a friend of mine. Like me, he’s a dreamer.

It was a chat long overdue. We hadn’t shared a latte for well over twelve months. “Aaron” and I met about six years ago and from that first moment I felt a sense of connected kinship. Our discussions are futuristic, fun and absolutely freeing. For me they are soul food exchanges. When we chat, we seek ways to better our respective organizations and society in general. They often revolve around the use of technology to create experiences that enhance the human spirit.

During our time together last week we delved into topics such as ‘drones for good’, robotics, wearable technologies and health bars. Not the kind you eat but the kind that should be found in company buildings as a way to promote openness, collaboration and healthy eating.

You get the point. We’re dreamers. Disney calls it ‘Imagineering‘.

I asked how things were going in his role. (He works for a rather large organization.) That’s the precise moment his ear-to-ear smile shifted to a glum, forlorn frown.

“Dan,” my friend questioned me with a palpable display of meekness.

“Why is it I get penalized for dreaming on my performance review?”

It was at this moment I wished our lattes might have been mistaken for Irish Coffees.

“I’ve got ideas and thoughts for the future of this company — and for our customers — and yet my performance review stinks,” he explained further. “I’m told to focus on my presentations and my deliverables, but I never get rewarded for my ideas.”

He then added:

“I’m punished for dreaming.”

My heart sank.

Aaron is gifted. He’s a dreamer. He’s an innovator. He’s a thinker. It was clear to me his role if not career growth is being stunted and his ideas are being ignored. I can’t begin to fathom what fantastic and positive contributions he would make to his company if only he were permitted to dream; if only a portion of his performance development plan (ie. his objectives) were re-engineered to dream.

Which brings me to my ultimate point if you are a leader of people.

Are you penalizing the dreamers in your organization?

Or, are you somehow enabling the dreamers such that their ideas and thoughts are — at a minimum — being considered or better yet, being incorporated into future plans?

Yes, boundaries and expectations need to be set. But crushing the dreamer is heartless. It might even be gutless. If you can enable the dreamer, you and your organization are bound to benefit.

I liken dreaming to doodling, made famous of course by Sunni Brown. By using common sense, experience and neuroscience, Sunni is proving that to doodle is to ignite your whole mind. For me, it’s a form of dreaming. (And you should rush to your favourite bookstore or online site to pick up her book “The Doodle Revolution“)

Every organization needs builders, doers and practitioners. That goes without saying. But every thriving organization needs the doodlers; it needs the dreamers.

Let’s stop penalizing the dreamers.

Let’s park the ego.

Let’s empower the dreamers to dream the dream.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

Carl Sagan

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6 comments on “Let’s Stop Penalizing the Dreamers”

  1. Organizations have lost touch with their vision…their dreams.
    Or the leadership has failed to communicate it.
    They have fallen back on the techniques of Management.
    This is a hard problem to solve, especially when the leadership is unaccountable and/or entrenched. Really hard when the leadership thinks their management is successful.
    Soldiering on. Thanks, Dan.

  2. Dreamers, wild ducks, mavericks… whatever you call us, we don’t fit into corporate culture. We’re tolerated as long as we also turn out the mundane stuff but the rest is on our own time, at our own risk. And usually the time comes when that tolerance turns to antipathy. In the days of recession it was hard to know what to do, but perhaps now things are improving it may be time to look elsewhere. One option is academia where thinking is still encouraged, and another may be independence if you think you have something to sell.

    But in all this, you must also be sensitive to those who, through no fault of their own, are put in charge of getting their departments or LoBs to deliver on short-term corporate goals. How does dreaming meet those? It doesn’t. Long-term success perhaps, but then which companies now think long-term? If it’s not got a positive ROI this quarter it doesn’t get done. And truly, as an independent you must also be focused on this quarter, on cashflow, or your long-term dreams won’t have funding.

    The ideal is a balance between short- and long-term activities — the mundane and the dreaming. Perhaps as recession recedes we’ll see the balance return, with more space for dreamers.

  3. @Rob – I’d like to see more organizations enlist the dreams of employees to help build out their vision. That’s my dream. 😉

    @Joana – love this line, “Dreaming can be dangerous to the hierarchy.”

    @Peter – one can only hope. (or dream)

    Thanks for visiting all, and for providing your thoughts.

  4. It’s hard to be a dreamer in a corporate world, unless you work for a company where the dreaming starts at the top level. I’ve watched my current organization go from a fear-based organization to one where we are encouraged to collaborate, dream, and innovate. They are hard to find, but they do exist!

  5. Eep! I hit post too soon. Anyway, I came to your blog as a training and development student at Roosevelt University, and I look forward to reading more of your ideas soon.

Hey! I'd love to read what you think. Surely you have an opinion. Love, Dan.