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Hope and the great chasm

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Do we really achieve more when we hope?

Alex from alwaysnewmistakes asks whether hope is responsible to achieving more than we think we are able.

3 perspectives on hope from 3 gurus

I think of three gurus.

Sun Tzu

I think of Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese General (Sun Zi if you are used to modern Mandarin).

He counsels us that battles are fought or won before they are started. He advises to pick our battles wisely and to only engage if the probabilities are with us.

To fight in the “hope” of winning is to court disappointment.

David Whyte

I think of David Whyte and his story of coming across a frayed rope bridge across a canyon in Tibet and freezing in terror.

I am not sure if he ever used the bridge. The point is that

  • often we are not happy with where we are
  • we are reasonably clear where we want to be (over the other side),
  • and we look at the gap between where we are and where we want to be, and our stomach lurches. In terror not hope.

The contribution of positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship is how to move forward when we feel the absence of hope – or when we feel puke-making terror.

The trick is to “Start close in, not with the second step or the third, but with the first thing”.

Starting with the ground beneath our feet is also called recrafting, appreciative inquiry, and building the bridge as you walk on it.

Our ability to stomach, rather literally, the original fear and to look at what you can do rather than at what you cannot do, is key.

Would I call it hope? Building hope, I think.

In my last post, I suggested ways of structuring to contain the terror of people around you.

Sometimes we have to start with ourselves. We can’t think let alone lead when we are paralysed with fear.

And if this sounds excessive, it is not. Even when we write a paper at uni, when we give your first lecture after the summer break, we can  freeze in fear.

We could also be facing a cashflow crisis, or the loss of your biggest customer through no fault of your own, etc. etc.

Things happen, to real people, and real people contain the fear and start “close in”.

With immense self-discipline, because they are fortunate to understand the mechanisms of hope, and that hope is grounded in what we can do.

Complex systems

The third guru, or set of gurus, are the people who work on generative psychologies.

Some of this work is very technical stuff on how we can produce more together than when we work alone.

Great advances hardly ever come from having the right answers up front. Great advances usually come from having enormous faith in the system.

Birds seem to fly in a flock by following each other and taking care not collide.  From those simple actions we get a flock.

leadership is when we pose a question (much as Alex has done for me here) and through engagement with the question and each other, we draw out answers we couldn’t have imagined. It can be done alone ,but we do so much together.   Alex’s point about synergy.

Great leaders

  • have a sense of what is possible (get across the canyon)
  • they contain their own terror
  • start working to establish the next step, usually on the basis of what we have in hand and what we are good at doing
  • and then they work with the group to work out what to do next.


  • Their belief in the ‘followers’ and customers and employees in business, must be massive. They must believe that the solution will emerge from the interaction.
  • must believe in the quality of people around them.

So is hope essential?

But it is not ungrounded.

  • It is so grounded that we can build the bridge forward.
  • It is so grounded, it is credible and infectious.
  • It is so grounded, we learn as we go with others with us on our journey.

Thanks, Alex



  1. Hello Jo: My earlier comment was in relation to whether leaders are followers. Your practical suggestions about hope are useful and will guide some of my future chats with those close to me 🙂

  2. scotchcart scotchcart

    Thanks Galba. Glad to have made your acquaintance.

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