A Tool For Reclaiming Your Agency In Shaping Your future
by Jeremy Nulik
We’re all in this together. It is the resounding tagline for every news station, car dealership, cable company, wealth management firm, and sports team around the country. I hate to sound so cynical, but I know I am not alone in feeling as though the sentiment is empty. Who is the we? And what is this?
Adding to the general cynical feeling, is that whole Payroll Protection Program thing. It ran out of funds before providing relief to small business owners.
In the midst of this, how are the employers that are the fabric of our communities to react? How can we set priorities? How can we lead? There is a growing sentiment among my business owner friends (generally ones prone to optimism) that there is little reason to have hope. And, even more troubling, there is the feeling that no one can do anything to shape the future.
In short: Things are exceedingly hard. And there is low hope and low power.
Thankfully, there are a number of foresight-inspired tools that can help you remain steadfast in setting a course for you and your business. One such practice is that of hard empathy, also known as cognitive empathy. Hard empathy is not emotional empathy. The elements that make up its structure are deeper than universal human feelings. Emotional empathy is important (and of course we could use more of it). But hard empathy challenges you to take on another person’s life and worldview. It asks you – for a moment – to simulate an alternate you.
Why would such a discipline be useful at a time when you have so much to worry about – when it seems like you would be justified in being self-concerned? Two reasons. One, in practicing hard empathy, you are creating a mental space in which something new is possible. Hard empathy releases your assumptions about the hopelessness of your condition. Two, it does not take long at all – at least, no longer than responding to your friends who have become infectious disease experts on social media.
Here is how you do it:
1. Go to a news site.
2. Read a story about a person who is experiencing a kind of life that is nothing like anything that you have experienced.
3. Imagine yourself living that life.
4. Think critically about how you could fundamentally see the world differently.
Ask yourself what you would want. What is important to you? How do you feel?
Example: A couple of months ago, I read a story about a man who trained for ultra-endurance events over dangerous terrain. In addition to the insane workout schedule, he had harrowing experiences on wilderness courses. At one point, in the abject cold during a blizzard, he consciously made himself a snow coffin so he would have a comfortable place to die. I don’t get this. These are things I have never experienced.
However, for a moment, I can imagine myself with his experiences, I can begin to understand him better. I can understand, fundamentally, what may seem boring about the world of luxury and simple things like conditioned air. This is an alternate Jeremy.
While the exercise is that simple, keep in mind two things: One, you have to suspend disbelief that such a practice is not worthwhile. Two, do not imagine you as the person. You are still you. You are just a different you – one with very different experiences that likely lead you to different conclusions about the world and what is possible.
Challenge yourself and your team, in these “unprecedented times” to do this practice with yourselves. And when the next step is unclear, try simulating a different version of yourselves. And maybe, on a deeper and weightier level, we will actually be all in this together.
Jeremy Nulik (email@example.com) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.