It started out as a pie business during a school entrepreneur’s week. The girls were required to work in teams and start some sort of business, the proceeds of which were to be shared with the school. Tamryn, Ronwyn and Jill decided that they would sell pies during the lunch break. It was a simple operation really: order the pies in the morning, have them delivered to the school, sell them at break and bank the money. There were many more creative ideas but none had the legs to outpace the simple pie business that flourished beyond all expectations. Once the week had come to an end the bold entrepreneurs (with the exception of Jill, who was destined to become like Pete Best – the Beatle who quit before Paul, John, Ringo and George went on to rule the world) asked and received permission to continue their business enterprise. The school authorities, unlike most such institutions, decided not to interfere with their education and said yes.

It was during this time that the girls hatched the dream to go to Paris.

Of course any dreamer will understand the attraction of parentless Paris to two fifteen-year-olds. And so it was that the dream provided the energy that fuelled the business. Excel spreadsheets of projected income were produced and the figures displayed provided a resounding, ‘Houston, we have go for launch.’ Suddenly what had seemed like a mere pipedream was tantalizingly possible. Naturally there were the doubters, the older brother for one. A rash bet was made that would see R100 pass hands on evidence (or not) of the purchase of the airline tickets.

In the early days it was easy to scoff. However it was hard to ignore or dismiss the reaction to any reference to or image of Paris that flickered across the TV screen. The dream was rooting and slowly the bank balance was growing. The quest to accumulate the necessary funds did have its downside. Routine chores that had once been done lovingly (well, OK, let me be honest, those tasks that had required some degree of coercion) now became chargeable. A further example of this changed approach was the occasion when Duncan, an invaluable friend (and not just because of his IT skills – though we all need such friends), was working on Tamryn’s computer. ‘Duncan,’ chirps the Opportunist, ‘would you like a pie?’ ‘Sure . . . that would be nice, thanks Tamryn,’ says the unsuspecting benefactor. Tamryn scratches in her cupboard, locates a day-old pie, heats it up and presents it to Duncan with, ‘That will be R4.00. I have given you a discount because the pie is a bit old.’ Of course the fact that Duncan was working on her computer didn’t feature in the equation at all!

Eventually the day came when the tickets were purchased and an older brother is R100 poorer. What seemed impossible became reality; the Dreamers realized their dream. Parents who had dismissed the idea suddenly had good reason for concern about two sixteen-year-olds let loose in Paris. But knowing Tamryn and Ronwyn, perhaps it is the French who should have been doing the worrying!

As I watched this story unfold I have repeatedly been reminded of the many leadership applications.

For one, there is the power of dreams to shape reality. In fact, what better to shape reality than the powerful, irresistible force of a dream? So many let reality shape their reality and they are the ones who, whilst remaining practical, are somehow never able to inspire in the way that the dreamers do. Recently I met a Durban businessman who had dreamt of building his own manufacturing plant. A young architect with whom he had shared his ideas travelled back from New York in order to be the one to design the revolutionary manufacturing plant. The dream to do things differently from industry standards has seen not only a unique manufacturing plant being developed, but with it a management style and practice that deserves a book of its own. And it was a dream that shaped it all.
Smart leaders work at discovering what it is their staff dream about. Smart leaders understand the power of dreams unleashed within their business and do everything within their power to release that potential.

The thing about looking back on dreams once they have become reality is that it is often easy to forget just how ‘big’ the dream was in its original context. Take, for instance, President J F Kennedy’s dream in the early 1960s to send a man to the moon and to bring him back safely before the end of the decade. It was a dream that had ‘improbable’ and, for some, ‘impossible’ stamped all over it. Yet it galvanized and inspired an entire nation and captured the imagination of the world. Of course the chief architect of that dream didn’t live to see it fulfilled, but this is often the case with dreamers. A case in point is Martin Luther King and his immortal words, ‘I have a dream . . .’ (Note that he didn’t say, “I have a plan”). As with Kennedy, King didn’t live to see his dream fulfilled, yet his ability to articulate his dream inspired thousands to move society and to change history. There is no shortage of examples of dreamers and their dreams. Unlike Kennedy and King, Nelson Mandela did live to see his dream mature into reality. Much of what we take for granted in today’s reality was once the stuff of dreams, nowhere more so than in the realm of technology.

With the advantage of hindsight we sometimes forget the size of the dream, and just how impossible it seemed at the time, and how crazy the dreamer appeared. That ought to encourage us as we entertain ‘impossible’ dreams and also give us pause before reaching for the delete key and dismissing the dreamer’s idea. It could even be argued than unless the dream evokes an initial response of ‘you must be crazy’ from others, it is too small a dream and one not worth pursuing.

Smart leaders look for the dreamers.

They ask repeatedly ‘why not?’ and are prepared to run the gauntlet of the pragmatists, the realists, those who speak sense and know better. They create within their environments incubators in which dreams emerge and hothouses in which dreams can grow. They also understand that not all dreams make the hazardous journey to reality and don’t let those that don’t make it detract from the belief that others can.

Another lesson to emerge from the pie to Paris caper is that not all will stay the course. The pie business started with three entrepreneurs but ended with two. Like the ‘forgotten’ Beatle, there was the friend who decided to look elsewhere and as a result missed out on the profitable pie business. This is a fact of life and most of those we meet along the way have at least one story of having missed out on the fulfillment of some or other dream that exceeded the limits placed on it. Those who shape the dream need to remember this reality, as do those who ‘miss out’.

The journey the dream takes towards reality is fraught with peril. Certainly, it is a journey characterised by hard work, discipline and the need to say no to detours and distractions. The Paris dream has meant all of the above. The sacrifice of break time, day in and day out; the need to stick to the budget, and choosing between the expensive skirt or banking the profit have been sources of frustration and temptation. And then there have been the detractors who have dotted the sidelines dismissing the notion with pronouncements of doom. Of course the further one makes it along the road, the fewer the detractors!

Dreams move people and change things.

Perhaps the content of the dream is not all that important; as Joseph of old discovered following his fallout with his brothers over his techni-coloured dream coat, ‘any dream will do’. As a leader you need to ask yourself when last you allowed yourself to dream. When was it that you last found yourself energized and scripted by a dream?  The chances are that if you have to retreat into the distant recesses of your memory to recall such a time, then you and those around you are not very inspired. Dreams that become woven into the fabric of daily life have an extraordinary power. Encountering dreamers is to encounter people who leave an indelible imprint on others. You know when you have been in the presence of such folk and, perhaps best of all, they somehow remind one to capture one’s own dream.

Pies in our household have become something magical and symbolic (and at the time, somewhat costly!). They have become reminders that we need to dream and then find ways to realize those dreams, no matter what the doubters say.

So how do you find out someone’s dream?

Ask them.

So what is your dream?

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