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January 26, 2009
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Dream a Little Dream with Me

America faces many threats in the 21st century, and, in fact always has ever since there was an America.  Certainly there are the many threats we hear about incessantly in the news media, as well as terrors of climate change, crime, lack of health insurance, plague, pestilence, frogs, boils and many others.

Each of these serious risks is harmful to our health as individuals, compounds societal problems and leaves a more difficult set of risks for the next generation.

ImageOf all the crises that affect us, however, the HR Doctor submits for your consideration that there is one in particular which gets little press but is profoundly important to the future of every person in the country, if not the world.  This is the crisis resulting from the fact that we seem to be forgetting how to dream. 

Dreams are the stuff of which optimism and hope are bred.  Dreams are what can inspire us and our children as well as our nation as a whole.  Dreams offer hope, and a sense of the possible, instead of merely the “as is.”

The causes of the dream crisis, like any of the other crises mentioned above, are varied and not the result of any single thing.  A few thoughts by this author suggest that we forget to dream in the face of a flood of made-to-order images and realities that leave little if anything to our imaginations.  Video games are great fun, for example, and very addictive, but there is something about reading an actual book that allows the mind to expand to fill in the story with mental images, including images of sounds and sights and smells. It’s more difficult to read a book than to double-click on a computer mouse, but the dream capability is worth it.

The same is true of being able to share with a child or any other person you love, the wonders of the night sky.  First, it’s hard to find the night sky above all the light pollution, but if you’re fortunate to live in an area where you can actually still see stars, amateur astronomy opens the door to visions. What must it have been like to be alive 5,000 years ago before high-intensity lights, and to take a leap of imagination about what all those objects up there could really be about.

Dreams are not merely fanciful fluff. They can and should be key concepts in the business world. One person’s dream, if properly communicated through inspiration, leads to amazing discoveries and outcomes.  Dreams can give us clues.  They can give us insights into things we can accomplish, and adventures we can have if we only encourage them and act on them. 

New employees come to work in public agencies with hopes and dreams of where their careers can take them and how they might grow — or at least they should come to work that way. Many however, come merely for a short-term sense of earning a pay check or extracting benefits out of the system without necessarily contributing back more than they take.

Part of HR’s challenge in the 21st century is to create a workplace in which aspirations and dreams can be voiced safely and respectfully and allowed to be pursued.  Unfortunately, some are the managers, elected officials, or the boards of county or city commissioners who feel it necessary to attack their colleagues or belittle their thoughts and attempts at contributions. They are the “dream terrorists” who pose a threat to the morale of individuals and the success of the organization.

Looked at another way, the metaphor for the mass production assembly line seems to be a dominant theme in the minds of many who have lost the capacity to dream.  In this context, individuals are judged and make judgments based on ability to follow mechanical processes to reach some sorts of quality and production requirements.  Little variance is tolerated in that kind of situation.

  The public agency which claims that every answer to every problem may be found in the civil service rules, or the county ordinance code, is not going to be agile enough to do well in the era of flexibility and nimbleness which characterizes our world.  Certainly, they are influenced in this rule-bound approach by the hordes of plaintiff’s attorneys orbiting around in America.  However, this must be balanced by a new Constitutional amendment — the freedom to dream.

With this new amendment in hand, 19th century concepts like civil service rules are going to give way more and more to equitable options and the capacity to change course when the situation is no longer the one present at the time when the rules were conceived.

One-size-fits-all fringe benefits will yield to life stage benefits in which individuals will have much more flexibility than ever before to design their own benefit package to best meet the needs of their personal characteristics such as age, or their family structure.

This author has always found it very strange, for example, that many organizations provide the wonderful benefit of dental insurance — whether or not an employee has any teeth left. In contrast, employees with young families are likely to have significantly different insurance needs than people with no children. The older we get the more important long-term care insurance will become as a cornerstone fringe benefit. 

Allowing people to work in environments in which they can design their own fate more than ever before in organizational history is the wave of the future.  Governments have not necessarily been flexible trend-setters in matters of employment, but that will change just as America’s economy overall is changing.

Why not be ahead of the curve and ask yourself or challenge yourself to consider the degree to which open and honest communications, and the freedom to dream about better public service exists in your organization?  If this dream management approach does not exist, if the organization instead is modeled after an inflexible prior generation model, take action to change that.  Do it now before you end up forgetting the importance of dreams as instruments to reshape our country and our own lives.


Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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