“What If…?” – Seeking Nuance and Kicking the Tires

“What if…?” has become a powerful and oft-used question over the last pandemic era – perhaps more than at any point in our lifetimes, as we’ve pondered the many changes that COVID could bring. I recently heard about a March 2020 article discussing our collective cultural responses to the pandemic in three terms: a blizzard (our initial short-term ‘stay home for two weeks’ thoughts), a winter (a season to get through before we return to life as normal), and an ice age (causing permanent changes and a necessary new way of life). In all three approaches, the question “What if…?” is key in exploring ideas and finding new ways forward.

Separately, I’ve been marveling recently at creators of all kinds – people who can take raw materials and create something brand new out of them. Using words to create poetry full of emotion and power. Using pencils or paints to create jaw-dropping artwork. Using wood, screws, and nails to create a treehouse. Using notes on a musical instrument to create a piece of music that can make you feel things you’ve never felt before. This too is a question of “What if…?”

“What if…?” can also help us to explore experiences and views that differ from our own. We can often discount others’ views and experiences because they don’t match our own. It’s easy to form an opinion and biased shortcut on what another person believes – or even about the person themselves – because what they’ve said differs from our own experience of life. But what if both experiences are valid? What might that do to your views? There’s a widely known but apocryphal story of Renaissance artist Michelangelo. The story goes that he was asked about how he sculpted his masterpiece David. His answer was along the lines of “You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David until you end up with David.” As unlikely as this story is, there’s value in reflecting on this when encountering views and life experiences that differ from your own. Perhaps others’ experiences could serve to ‘chip away’ at the sculpture of your own views and beliefs, time and time again. Perhaps these experiences will show details that you otherwise would have ignored. Perhaps they help you kick the tires on your beliefs, like a stress test to ask yourself “do my views hold up?” Maybe the answer will be a resounding “Yes!” Or maybe the answer will be more complicated, and cause you to ask more questions, adding nuance to your own views. Unlike Michelangelo’s David, you may never be ‘complete’ and held up as a masterpiece. But that just shows that you’re still learning. What if… you’re a living work-in-progress?

How might the question “What if…?” help you and your team this week?

This Week’s Tips:

  1. Spend more time in the “What if…?” space this week. Spend some time exploring ideas, ideally with others. Perhaps you have ideas you’ve kept to yourself that it might be helpful to get other people’s thoughts on? Doing so will help you kick the tires on the ideas, and add some new perspectives to help sculpt them into a more final form.
  2. Take time in your team to invite others to share their “What if…?” ideas. Invite some outside-of-the-box thinking – perhaps related to the ‘ice age’ new way of life, or perhaps not. What are some ideas that your team has that haven’t fit in to the normal process of sharing? These are ‘blue sky’ ideas that may not be implementable in the short term – or perhaps ever – but that will further the creative process, and help your team get to know each other in more depth in the process.
  3. Explore your own creative side. What if you’re more creative than you’re finding time for these days? Take an hour or an evening (or more) to try drawing, writing, singing, gardening, building, cooking, or one of hundreds of other creative pursuits you might enjoy. Share your experiences with others, and see what comes up. What if you enjoy it more than you expected? What if that inspires others?

Try these out this week and let us know how it goes – we’d love to hear from you. If you have thoughts or questions, contact us or post in our Facebook group.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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