In the business world, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day. You may have big plans for your organization, but likely spend all of your time just “getting things done” instead.
Regardless of how busy you are, it’s important to stop and make sure you’re spending your time on the highest value activities. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, started scheduling up to two hours per day of thinking time when he realized his days were becoming inundated with meetings. And Warren Buffett, CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, famously keeps his calendar largely blank (just a handful of meetings a month) so he has time to think.
But I think it’s important to do more than just stop and think. It’s important to stop and dream. That may sound silly, but it’s not just me saying it. According to Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, “Dreaming champions aspiration, spurs innovation, leads to change, and propels the world forward.” His advice is to “Open your calendar and schedule time just to dream.”
It may feel like a waste of time at first, but taking time out of your day to dream can really pay dividends.
Take time to dream.
Let’s consider the example of the email marketer. Email blasts take a lot of work. Email marketers spend a lot of time planning campaigns, drafting copy, working with designers, building lists, and more. As an email marketer, you could easily repeat this process day after day, without ever stopping to question whether you could be sending emails in a better way.
But take a few minutes to dream about what you would do with your emails in an ideal world. Don’t think about how you would do it or whether the technology exists. Don’t think about all the internal barriers that would get in the way. Just dream.
As an email marketer, you may think, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if our emails were always opened? If our recipients never viewed our emails as spam and never unsubscribed?” That’s a good dream. It’s what all email marketers would love.
Now you might think I’d say, “Great! Now figure out how to make your dream a reality.” But there’s another important step to take before you get there.
Focus first on making your dream more vivid. A fleshed out dream will inspire you much more than a vague one. If your dream is vague, it may sound too aspirational — like you can’t possibly achieve it so you might as well abandon the dream and get back to work. But a vivid dream will provide you with a much clearer path to realization.
Returning to the email example, instead of thinking broadly about reaching that ideal state of never losing a subscriber because your recipients open every email and always find value, you should get more specific about what that really looks like. You may think, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could send our emails to a person at exactly the right time, containing exactly the right content, to encourage him to take action (make a purchase, read a blog post, sign up for a webinar)? If we could know exactly what message will resonate with him and exactly which moment he will be receptive to that message? When we can do that, our recipients would always find value and would rarely unsubscribe.”
At this point, you shouldn’t necessarily feel constrained by anything. Your dreams don’t need to be 100 percent realistic. For example, if you run the email marketing program for a quick service restaurant chain, you might dream about the possibility of adding smells to your emails when you announce new products if that will really change the game for your campaigns. Clearly, that technology doesn’t exist today. But who knows? Maybe it will one day. Don’t leave anything out just because you think it’s not possible.
Identify the right technology.
Once you have a vivid dream, you can get started on the real work. You need to start by looking for ways to realize your dream – or as much of it as possible. These days, many business-related dreams are enabled by technology. Back to the email example…you can’t manually create a new email for each specific person on your email list (unless your list is very small). You need technology to make that scalable for you.
So after you’ve made your dream more vivid, survey the state of technology today. Figure out which pieces of your dream you can realize now, which pieces you may be able to realize within the next few years, and which pieces are currently science fiction — for now. Technology moves quickly, so you may be able to accomplish more today than you initially thought. And what was once thought of as science fiction in the past may be achievable today or will be soon, so hang onto those pieces of your dream for the future.
Break your dream down into components to understand what you need to execute it. For the email example, you want to be able to deliver emails that are truly relevant to each person. To start, you’ll need a customer data platform that creates an individual profile for each person on your email list. With that, you can understand each person as an individual, rather than simply identify which segments he falls into. Then, you need to be able to automatically select the most relevant email content for each person — so you need machine learning, which will sift through all that is known about a person to select the most appropriate content.
Next, consider all of your technical requirements and determine what you can find on the market. And talk to your IT team for advice or to determine what you should build. Technology is often a critical aspect of figuring out how to deliver on your dream.
Develop the people, process and culture.
Big, game-changing dreams typically can’t be realized with technology alone. They require the right people and processes, enabled by technology, to execute on the vision.
If you want to deliver those relevant emails you’ve been working on, you’ll need executive sponsorship to support you through this evolution. You’ll also need a culture of testing and iteration (if you don’t have one already) because it’s unlikely that you’ll reach your dream immediately. You’ll need to test and iterate to find what works best. A culture that allows for testing, failing quickly and learning from those mistakes will help support you and your team as you achieve your dream.
And finally, your company needs to be structured appropriately to focus on the customer. Many companies these days say they are customer-focused but, in practice, they are structured around products rather than customers. If you truly want your emails to be relevant at the individual level, you can’t just push products. You need to match the right content, experience and products to each customer.
These are not easy tasks. As you strive to achieve your dream, you’ll have to keep your dream in mind. You’ll have to determine what you’ll be able to accomplish in the short term, middle term and long term. Large-scale organizational change may not be realistic in the short term, but it won’t happen at all if no one is acting as the change agent. That may as well be you.
Live the dream.
After you’ve formed your dream, made it vivid, found the right technology and developed your organizational processes, you’ve reached the fun part. Now you can live your dream!
Of course, living the dream isn’t just sitting on a beach and basking in a job well done. Presumably, your dream will result in real success for your business and your career. You should revel in that success — and continue to build on it. Personally, as a founder of a company, I find it very fulfilling to show up to work at Evergage every day and live the dream that my co-founder and I originally had. Now we continue to dream new dreams and work hard to realize those as well.
If you have just one takeaway from this article, it’s this: take the next few minutes and write down your dream. Emulate successful business leaders and schedule some time to stop and think. What is working in your company or your specific role? What are you doing just because that’s how it’s always been done? What is your dream for the future? You can sit around doing what you usually do or even making small improvements to what you’re doing, or you can execute on a big dream for real change. That’s your choice.