The Center for
Creative Community

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 "We need imaginative inspiration…"


The Part I Introduction outlined the rationale for this approach: a clear and relevant vision of the future influences us, energizes and mobilizes us in the present. Other approaches are more the past pushing us into the future; in visioning, the dream, pulls us.

But it isn't easy .....

Some people never dare to dream anything they're not sure beforehand of achieving. This gets them nice, safe sanitized goals guaranteed not to stimulate nor stretch.

Standard problem-solving habits reinforce such caution. Ideally, we set a desirable goal and then worry about how to achieve it. In practice, however, worries about how to achieve it often 'leak' over into the goal-setting process prematurely diminishing the scope and imaginativeness of targets. Some people are very resourceful in applying this 'philosophy’ to your goals as well as theirs; they can always come up with ten reasons why your idea won't work. They're adept at negative prediction, i.e., explaining why anything desirable is also impossible.

By contrast, our policy will be affirmation first as purely as possible. Only after this, will we concern ourselves with implementation. We seek a process which bypasses implementary anxieties in setting goals.


The year - 1960. Landing people on the moon within a decade was strictly for the comic books. Realists, if they thought about it at all, could give lots of reasons why it could never happen. Probably, U. S. President John F. Kennedy was pretty well aware of these implementary implausibility’s. Yet, he chose to affirm as a national goal that the U. S. would have a man on the moon within ten years. That declaration was itself a major resource in making the dream happen; it galvanized energy and expertise as timidity never could.

Down-to-earth parallels are not hard to find. How many of us never asked that celebrity to participate in our conference or recognition event because we are sure he or she will never come? Next thing we know, someone whose event is no more important than ours, has the 'nerve' to ask and the person accepts! The 'asker' visualized the ideal then leapfrogged normal problem-solving restraints to 'go for it'. This is also known as the chutzpah factor.

Another example: If you can't (or won't) imagine yourself as a higher--level manager/supervisor, chances are you're never going to get there. Imagining yourself there is no guarantee of success, but it a first step.

Maybe 'wishing won't make it so', but it's a start sometimes. And never daring to dream only gets you safe mediocrity. In the longer-run it virtually guarantees failure against the only standard that really matters - becoming all you can be and doing all you might do.

 Mindset, Atmosphere

There are nevertheless some things you can do to assist the visioning process. First, discuss and encourage a dream-nurturing mindset. The following example illustrates the kind of atmosphere you should try to instill, if the unit of study is: The Best of All Possible Worlds for You at Work, the Ideal Situation in All Respects. Include feelings as well as facts. Put it down as it comes to you without much analysis. In particular, do not worry a lot about how you got to this ideal situation; just think what it's like to be there; leapfrog problems, and work alone. Take about 15 minutes. You can write it out fully, outline it, or just keep it in your head - whichever suits you. And if drawing a picture helps you visualize and express your dream, that's fine too.

Some people will seek more structure: How far in the future is this? Am I still with my present organization? Should I take into account the possibility of moving to another community?

Encourage people to answer such questions for themselves by letting the vision emerge freely first, then seeing what structure is implied. To the time-frame kind of question, you might say, 'Everyone's style is different, of course, but we'd prefer you to let your best-of-all-possible-work-worlds take shape first uninvited by strict time limits. Once this is done, it should become fairly clear approximately how far in the future this is likely to be.'

This laissez-faire approach is hard for some people to handle. Many of these are the very people who most need some lifting of limits in their imagination. Only ask participants to keep structure to the minimum they can tolerate. As for facilitator-imposed structure from the outside, the starting question itself, with approximate time limit, is usually the main structure. I sometimes also, with concurrence of participants, encourage a mood of reflection and quiet by asking people to close their eyes and otherwise get centered before responding to the question. Someone familiar with meditation is good for leading this process.

Here is a composite example of a typical 'feasible fantasy.’

"The time I’m allowed to respond on the volunteer programs has dramatically increased to 90%, and I have a wonderfully efficient and pleasant executive assistant. Requests for volunteers from staff have doubled, running slightly, ahead of my ability to fill them. Even better, staff are coming in with well-thought-out volunteer job requests, realistic, often innovative, and responsible. Staff are clearly taking their obligation to supervise volunteers far more seriously, and they do it much more skillfully. Among other things, this has resulted in a much lower volunteer dropout rate. The help and support volunteers give staff is also credited with easing the staff burnout problem we’ve had in previous years.

I’m at a middle management level and have had several salary increases with a substantial boost in my benefits package as well, especially medical. I report to a person who encourages and appreciates my creativity and is generous in giving me credit for what I do (she doesn’t need to get the credit herself). I am also consistently ‘in the loop’ on executive staff decisions concerning overall goals and mission of the agency. Among other things, I am the expert on how community involvement can contribute to any purpose or goal of the agency, current of contemplated.

Professional development funds are now at a level where I can attend at least one national and several in-state (or province) conferences a year. There’s also plenty of financial support for recognition items and events for volunteers.

I enjoy non-work activities as much as ever, maybe more, but there are still lots of days when I can hardly wait to get to work in the morning - it’s such a fulfilling place to be. Even better, I bring happiness home with me at night; friends and family say they’ve never seen me looking or feeling better."


Once you've encouraged a vision-positive mindset, here are three tactics/ exercises that can help smooth the way to your "city on the hill".

TATIC 1) As mentioned earlier, there is a quiet, contemplative approach. First decide what you're going to dream or vision about. Then, in a peaceful, pleasant setting, (perhaps including soft music) people are asked to remain quietly together for 5-10 minutes. People can close their eyes or leave them open, meditate or just sit quietly, as they consider the dream, each in her/his own way. After that THOSE WHO WISH TO DO SO, share their experience, or whatever part of it they feel they wish to. BE CAREFUL TO MAKE IT ABSOLUTELY CLEAR THIS SHARING IS ENTIRELY VOLUNTARY. It is remarkable how often common elements appear in the independently-dreamt visions of different people.

This approach works for a lot of people, and does NOT work for some others, who may be just as creative but simply aren't comfortable with the meditative method. From the very beginning then, such people, or the entire group, should be offered the following alternative.

TATIC 2) In a circle of 5-15 people, each individual independently thinks quietly for a few minutes on the ideal situation for the futuring topic chosen by the group (unit of study). Then each individual is asked to share just one or two primary characteristics of their "ideal scenario". Finally, discussion by the entire group consolidates and where possible, integrates the independently contributed vision-elements.

These two "gimmicks" can complement each other nicely. In one scenario, participants are given their choice of the two "methods" of initially creating the vision, then the two groups work towards a combined dream at the end. Another option is to begin the independent-element method (#2) with a relatively brief, "light" version of the meditative method (#1). The latter approach produced "HARMONY" as the ideal community of the future. It is beautiful enough, so that I'd like to share it with you here.


What do we do with these dreams, once they're out"?

--Ask participants to get in pairs or small groups

--Concentrate on one person's visualization before moving on to the next.

--No one is pressured to share material they consider too private

--Allow at least 45 minutes for the exercise, and you may need longer

--Task is to decide which of the three implementary approaches below, or which combination, is best for each ideal visualization. Then, as time permits, follow out the implications in more detail.

Exercise A

The three approaches to "doing something about the dream" are:

TYPE 1 - DO NOTHING. This confronts the common assumption that we always have to do something about an idea, and do it immediately. (Just because you have an idea doesn't mean it's time for it.) Instead we could just leave it alone and 'let it ripen like early-picked fruit, or mellow like new-made wine. This is very hard for some people to do--I'm one of them--but it is nevertheless a viable option. My dream of building VOLUNTAS (described in an attachment here) allowed this vision of a retreat and renewal center for volunteers and their leaders to ripen several years before we started to do anything about it. There may be some analogy to dreams of making a concert pianist of a promising three-year-old. The potential may be there, but you probably have to wait awhile for readiness to respond to intensive cultivation of latent talents. And the child must also be given time to form her/his own vision of who they'd like to be.

TYPE 2 - WALK BACKWARDS FROM THEN TO NOW. This classic approach to implementation would first of all try to pin the person down as to when exactly their ideal situation was to be reached. Then, we work backwards in time, thusly: if this is to happen by, say 1995, what needs to start happening today? next month? next year?

TYPE 3 - HAVE A "PEP RALLY." Here, the group's role may include gently asking for a bit more description on certain parts of the ideal visualization, to help the person flesh it out. But most of all, the group would shower the dreamer with all kinds of reasons why and how the dream will come true--no critique allowed. We're more into morale than mechanics here.

EXERCISE B'. (There is no obligation to do both exercises A and B or to do them in order if you decide to do both.)

Ask participants to visualize THE THING(S) I'D MOST LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN IN MY ORGANIZATION/PROGRAM/CAUSE. This is broader than the previous visualization because it probably involves, crucially, other people and resources besides the participant as an individual. Otherwise, the process is essentially the same, with the three implementary options, etc. Here, however, the third "pep rally" option might also be called "catchfire," in that you hope for more than having people cheer you on from the sidelines, so to speak, in your personal advancement or fulfillment. Here, you need people's active participation in making a shared dream come true. Prospects for implementation depend importantly on the ability of the idea to excite people. Once that happens, they will help you find ways to make it happen, ways you might never have thought of yourself. They will become co-owners of the dream and therefore co-implementers.

The attached report on the VOLUNTAS project illustrates this, naming some of the people with whom the concept caught fire, and who therefore took important initiatives to help make it happen. Many of these ideas, e.g. tithing, training fees, benefit workshops, the time capsule, and taking a desktop display around to conferences, are implementations I never thought of as one of the originators of the idea. I therefore think this Type 3 approach deserves more legitimacy and respect than it has had in the past. VOLUNTAS also illustrates the Type 1 approach, or laissez-faire, as previously noted. I let the idea "steep" for several years without doing anything about it, except talking with friend and colleagues now and then. There’s no way I know of to prove that such incubation helped. I only sense strongly that during this fallow period, the idea fleshed out and matured through largely unconscious incubation and elaboration.

As for the "walk backwards" Type 2 approach, many colleagues were concerned that we mainly put the VOLUNTAS idea out there for "cathchfire" at first, without having detailed MBO "how to" plans in place. These are steadily evolving, however; see, for example, the grass roots fundraising and grantwriting plans described in the attached brochure. My belief is that Type 1 and Type 3 approached ultimately contribute to Type 2 development rather than conflict with it.


Please note: The Center is producing an entire module on visualizing the future of volunteering. You might want to check on the status of this publication as supplemental material to the present exercise.


TATIC 3 -- In addition to the contemplative and individual component "methods" for helping people in visioning, a third tactic is "Time-Machine." As in any other approach, the group first decides at least generally what they will be futuring about, and the timespan. Let's assume this will be "the environment", between now and the year 2020 (a longer timespan than usually recommended, largely for dramatic purposes).

All but two or three people in the group play the role of people of the future (2020). They spend 5-10 minutes or so deciding what the environment ideally would be like in 2020, guided by the inverse of Murphy's law: everything that can go right, does. The attempt is to reach at least a rough consensus on this "picture of paradise."

Two or three other individuals take the role of people today. While the people of 2020 are getting their ideal picture together, these people of the present try to come to at least a rough consensus on a)what the environmental situation is in the present, and b) what questions they'd like to ask the future people.

Now the two groups get together because, it turns out, a time machine has just been invented and the future people have used it to bring the present people forward to the year 2020. After first thanking the future people for the experience, and perhaps gently complaining that the ride was a little rough, the people, of the present start asking their questions about the environment (or whatever topic has been chosen) in 2020 (or whatever year has been chosen).

The dialogue is usually lively, instructive, and with some humor(that's fine). At the end, when the situation seems to be--pretty well played out, time roles are dropped and the group as a whole discusses the results of the dialogue, the insights and the issues raised.

One thing to look out for. Though the people of the future have tried to reach some consensus on the future situation before the dialogue with present people begins, they will occasionally disagree with one another, sometimes quite seriously, in responding to a present person's question. When that happens, the plausibility of the process can be preserved by assuming there are a few separate enclaves in the future. In one instance, a future person who differed with other future persons on an issue, explained this by saying she lived on an isolated island. Another, less plausibly, perhaps, said he was from the planet Mercury! It was interesting, though, that even future people seem embarrassed when they have to disagree!

Another caution: the process is dramatic enough without creative embellishments such as meeting your own child in the future, or even meeting yourself! Fun, perhaps, but diverts too much attention away from the futuring topic under consideration.


This section so far has been designed so that the materials on visioning will suffice as basics. If the reader wants something a little more advanced, the remaining materials "complicate" the approach in two hopefully productive ways.

Let me close this treatment of visioning as a way of futuring with a reminder of its close relation to Section V, Making Dreams Come True, and also a few examples of what has happened to visions in my own experience. The Voluntas Time Capsule, though long dreamed of, then filled and dedicated in 1990, has still not "come true" in the sense of being permanently located and positioned for the future. (Inquire of Dr. JoAnn Hanson-Stone, St Paul, MN, the last known holder of this Time Capsule). The two retreat centers I’ve had a hand in creating and coordinating in the 1990's are VOLUNTAS in Madrid, New Mexico, and STILLPOINT in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I would definitely say these two, especially the latter, are visions that have really happened fully and richly. Finally, "Harmony" is an ideal community that has yet to happen—but it has been dreamed, and that is a beginning.

So, it is a mix of fulfillment and frustration in the real world, and as that is to be distinguished carefully from visioning as what has been called "affirmation" in the New Age thinking. With respect, that sometimes seems to be little more than "wishing will make it so" and, for me at least, the wishing needs to be accompanied by effort, and might still be disappointed ...

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Ivan Scheier
607 Marr
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 87901
Tel (505) 894-1340

For comments and editing suggestions please contact Mary Lou McNatt