We can all achieve greater happiness when focusing both on our dreams and on other people in our lives, says innovation consultant and author Whitney Johnson in her book Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream.
The book offers a three-step model for personal advancement, happiness and entrepreneurial success, with dozens of case profiles to support the material. They include Jill Hubbard Bowman (founder of legal blog IP Law for Startups), Tereza Nemessamyi (founder of women’s forum Honestly Now), Maria Carr (author of the Cuban recipe book 90 Miles, 90 Recipes), Chrysula Winegar (founder of the blog Work. Life. Balance.), Judith Dushkur (founder of the trauma healing centre THARCE), Nan Hunter (founder of a children’s theatre school), Jolene Edmunds Rockwood (founder of Rural Alliance for the Arts), and Tensie Whelan (CEO of The Rainforest Alliance).
“Dreaming matters – to our families, our communities, the world and especially to ourselves,” Johnson begins.
Dreaming is essential to make meaning of life, find your inner voice, truly grow up, and show the next generation how to dream. “Dreaming is an inalienable right,” says Johnson. Though difficulties and challenges may take us off course in life, it is important to make meaning of these challenges by daring to dream again.
Johnson cites psychologist Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences: logical-mathematical, linguistic, kinaesthetic, interpersonal, musical, naturalist, spatial and existential intelligence. Society values the first two, but others such as existential intelligence helps you ask and answer life’s questions.
Storytelling is an important part of this process. “There is a power in storytelling that can transform our lives,” says Robert Atkinson, author of The Gift of Stories. This applies to traditional as well as personal stories, which help people inter-connect and inspire one another. Art and music also bring meaning to personal experiences. Daring to dream helps break out of the ‘unlived life.’
Introspection, expression and social media communication help discover your voice. “Voice is like a snowflake – complicated, beautiful and individual,” says Mary Pipher, author of Writing to Change the World. Finding your voice often comes through experiences of challenges, sorrow, loss and pain.
There is a time to be a spectator, supporter and cheerleader – but also a time to get into the game and be part of the action. A series of no’s or short-term sacrifices in the near term is worth it if it leads to a good successful yes or major achievement in the long term. Being Robin to Batman may be fine, but it’s good to be Batman sometimes too – and being a good Batman can help become a good Robin again later as well.
You must boldly follow your dreams as well: become the hero of your story; make space and time for your dreams; map and track your competencies; know your beliefs; build on your strengths; and fine-tune your dreams as you align them with current circumstances.
Reflecting on childhood experiences and happiness is a good way to begin understanding your dreams. Through the twists and turns of life, it is necessary to embrace one’s constraints and even tap ‘fortunate frustrations’ by downsizing, re-directing or deferring dreams.
The author urges readers to always set aside a specific time and space for dreams, while also being open to the unexpected insight or idea. This can include a vacation or even a ‘staycation’ at home. This ‘down payment’ for the dream via time, space, money and energy pays off in the long run.
Introspection helps reveal your own innate talents, accumulated competencies, beliefs and identities. Some deeply-held beliefs put boundaries on dreams, others are scaffolding. For people of many faiths, their religion is a source of drive and values.
Having fleshed out your dreams, you need to embrace discovery, explore your domain, create your dream team, bootstrap your dream, and ‘date’ or dabble with your dreams. Making dreams come true calls for support from mentors, experts, fellow dreamers and cheerleaders. Dreams can also change via serendipitous un-anticipated events.
A lot of experimentation is called for in making dreams come true, as advocated by Eric Ries, author of Lean Startup. For 90 per cent of all successful new businesses, the strategy the founders initially pursued did not lead to the business’s success, according to Amar Bhide, Columbia University professor. This kind of discovery-driven planning by trial-and-error instead of long-range theoretical conventional planning calls for the ability to be flexible and to pivot, and not just ‘hope for the lottery.’
Many successful entrepreneurs have turned their scarcity into opportunity, and bootstrapped their way to success by learning how to build products and acquire customers. “Learn and stop whining,” advises interior designer Dana King. It may be okay to keep perfection as a goal but don’t let it torment you.
Some of the more powerful dreams are those that engage the mind, soul and heart. It helps to put the dreams down on paper and visualise them through photos or sketches (‘think it, then ink it’). Sometimes you also need to reach out to ‘strangers of consequence,’ or people who you may not know but who believe in you and help you; they have a ‘helicopter view’ of the ecosystem.
Lessons from exemplary women
The book is primarily targeted at an audience of women, but the tips are useful for a broader audience as well. Johnson explains that women have faced a range of challenges in society, ranging from physical abuse to glass ceilings at work. Yet, they put in 80-hour work weeks, contribute to community culture and power the human race. But society conditions them to be modest, contribute first to family, and postpone their own dreams. Women should believe they too can act and be leaders in their stories, Johnson urges. Nurturing themselves and their dreams can in turn help them nurture others too.
Even so-called mundane tasks of cooking and homemaking can be sources of creative ideas, projects and businesses in their own right — some fulltime, others freelance. Women may need to multi-task their dreams as they balance work and family life, thus setting examples for their own children on how to dream. Stories of birth can bring out the power of women, Johnson explains.
Women innovators need to network with another as well, and harness ‘systergy’ (synergy of sisterhood). They should learn from one another how to dream, Johnson says. “It is my sincerest hope that a chain of dreaming begins with this book,” she concludes.
The book is packed with terrific inspirational quotes, and it would be great to end this review with the sample quotes below.
The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play. – Richard Strauss
Within your heart, keep one still, secret spot where dreams go. – Louise Driscoll
To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose onself. – Sorn Kierkegaard
The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise just under his feet. – James Oppenheim
Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are. – Malcolm Forbes
The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. – Dieter Uchtdorf
Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. – Albert Einstein
Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The micro matters a lot. The macro doesn’t happen without the micro. – Saren Loosil
Old age is no place for sissies. – Bette Davis
We can do no great things, only small things with great love. – Mother Theresa
Just get up and push ‘play.’ – Jenny Clawson, Mobonics
Always be a beginner at something. – Bill Buxton, Microsoft
About the author:
Whitney Johnson is an author and consultant on innovation and the co-founder of an investment firm with Clayton Christensen. She regularly speaks and consults with Fortune 100 Companies including J&J, PepsiCo and Morgan Stanley. Johnson studied music and later became Merrill Lynch’s senior telecom and media analyst for South America. She has lived in Europe, the US and South America.