Stop Magical Thinking


Magical thinking is any attempt to bend reality to the will or hopes of an individual. Whether by sleight of hand or genuine higher powers, magical thinking leads people into flights of fancy.

Many will remember the Magical Realist school of literature that delivered some extraordinarily captivating novels. Novels would move along telling an engaging story. Then suddenly they would swerve free of reality while magic transformed the world.

Sadly many business plans follow this swerving course at exactly the moment value needs to be created. Instead of exploring the human changes required they swerve into magical thinking. Magical thinking makes for engaging stories, but it makes for terrible plans for the future of work.

Stop Magical Thinking at Work

Let’s leave the magical thinking to creative arts and stop it in the future of work. Value in the future of work is hard work and we will need to create it together.

A really good indicator that magical thinking is creeping in to plans in business is the use of the passive voice. The human contribution to change slips away and magic takes over. Nobody need do anything because great stuff is about to happen suddenly entirely on its own.

The following things are all examples of magical thinking:

  • Adoption will be driven by the right launch, right features, etc.
  • Value will be created by adoption of the terminology, features, systems or processes.
  • Culture will be changed
  • Leaders will be changed 
  • Ideas, changes and new practices will be understood and adopted easily
  • Hierarchy, command and control, micromanagement, etc will be eliminated
  • The desired outcome will be delivered by new policies, processes, measures or systems.
  • More social/analytical/collaborative/cooperative/community-oriented/engaged/innovative work will occur and will be valued by management
  • New forms of value will be created
  • Great new jobs will be created
  • New efficiencies will happen
  • New performance metrics will be adopted

Change is not Magical. Change takes work

None of those things happen without the hard work of leading changes in the attitudes, behaviours and outcomes of the way people work. A real person needs to make that change happen. That special someone has to help others to:

  • Change attitudes about work so as to
  • Change behaviours at work so as to
  • Change the outcomes from work

Only those changes in outcomes create value. Value creation is critical because value creation determines what businesses do and keep doing. Sadly, value does not magically appear.

Before we see any value, at least one leader has to experience those changes in attitudes, behaviours and outcomes themselves. Then that special leader get to work hard to create the value for others through effort, influence and experimentation.

There is no passive voice in leadership. Let your actions speak louder than words.

So when do you start?

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