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How to Cross Life's Impossible Bridges

Imagine this scenario. You’re on a hike through previously untrekked terrain. Somehow you got separated from your friends so you’re a bit anxious. You follow a trail to a ramshackle bridge. On the other side you can see your friends and safety. But there’s a gap in the bridge, making it impossible to pass.

So, how do you get over the bridge?

Think about it for a moment. You might come up with a few ideas, like:

  • Throw a rope across and let someone pull you over.

  • Take a run from a distance and leap across.

  • Find some branches and build a platform to connect the two sides.

OK, what are you doing? You’re using your imagination to come up with possible solutions. That’s the missing ingredient in the typical learning equation. It’s the vital element missing in most education systems and even in adult learning.

Our brains respond immediately to imaginative thinking, growing new neural pathways. It’s not exaggeration to say that we become smarter this way. So, how does this fit in the new leadership development system we’re developing?

Staying with that scenario, the path to the bridge represents data, all the information we might study relative to some issue like building successful teams, leveraging diversity in the office, healing a relationship with a family member, etc. On the other side is the result you want: success, happiness, wellness.

The gap between can be bridged with your imagination.


Start with simple questions . . . fire up what Kristen Sweeting Morrelli refers to as a “wonderstorm.”

Here are a few random examples:

“What if we grew an incredible team. How might we do that? Let’s see…” And, “Who can I bring onto the team who is really different – looks different, thinks different, acts different? How might that improve our performance?”

Or, on another vein entirely, “I wonder what I could do with my son to change our dynamic? What if … ?”

In our soon-to-be-released leadership development course, we formalize this second step between information and results into actual “simulations.” As we explore each of the 12 Practices for Thriving in Business and Life, we guide participants on an imaginative journey, postulating specific possibilities. And here’s the real key . . . feeling what it would be like to get the desired results.

We’ve layered our process in three easy-to-remember steps:

[if !supportLists]1. [endif]Learn it.

[if !supportLists]2. [endif]Imagine it.

[if !supportLists]3. [endif]Live it.

Step three is another aspect that is often neglected in training and education. Ultimately, it’s the step that makes all the difference. Truth is, however, much of what passes for learning and training is almost wholly about step one, reading or listening to someone give you information.

Not only does the presenter almost never invite you to engage your imagination (in order to expand your brain’s capacity so you can actually learn something new), but they rarely give you specific practices to follow afterwards.

And what about the importance of a learning support system? Only a handful of people actually move on to implementation without a good cohort group to keep one another focused on application, especially when bumps in the road inevitably appear. That’s why our new leadership development system is designed to utilize the buddy system—to help ensure that what you learn and imagine becomes lived knowledge.

You’ve probably heard the joke about someone asking how to get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice, practice, practice!”

We’ve found that this 1-2-3 formula gets incredible results precisely because it utilizes two of the most important aspects of truly incorporating new learning into our lives.

Give it a try with something you’re interested in learning and let us know how it works for you.

Here’s your thriving challenge for the week:

Address one challenge in your personal or professional life by studying information that could help you. Then create an imaginary scenario and “wonder” how it might work and how success would feel. Finally, develop concrete action steps to take that you share with a co-conspirator and ask them to hold you accountable. Practice until you’ve integrated new, thriving habits.

Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson

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