Seeing Possibility While Being Real

In my left hand, I’m holding Authentic Happiness, a book about how to use positive psychology to improve your life. Glancing at the cover leaves me content and hopeful. This feels good.

In my right hand I’m holding Hoodwinked, a story about the “predatory mutant virus” of capitalism as it is practiced today. The image on the cover of an economic hit man warms my chest, too, but in a different way. The uncovering of the forces behind the world’s economic woes brings a sense of indignation and clarity. This feels real.

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I put the two books down in front of me and take a deep breath. What’s going on here? How is it that a book about being happy and a book about how the world is screwed up both feel like they belong in my hands?

Our world and the people who inhabit it are complex. We contain many parts. And the ideas that pass through our minds contain many truths–all of them partial. Confronting the brutal facts about an economy, organization, or leader brings us into contact with some of these partial truths. Exploring how to creatively respond to that very same life leads us to other–very different–partial truths.

Most of the time, we choose one set of partial truths over the other. For example, in Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, Barbara Ehrenreich identifies positive psychology as a primary culprit in the United States’ irrational exuberance about the economy. Her words are persuasive–until you realize that they, too, contain partial truths. What she leaves out–how positive psychology can support people in leading positive change in their communities–is as real as what she includes.

On the other hand, many business leaders I know are familiar with–and even troubled by–what’s happening in the larger world, yet their companies’ priorities and incentives keep them focused away from the more unpleasant realities. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s just partial. I do it myself.

The world needs all of us to grow our minds so they have the capacity to hold many partial truths–at the same time. It needs us to make sense of the complexity around and within us and to move forward with wisdom, compassion, and focus. And it needs me to be able to hold both Authentic Happiness and Hoodwinked in my hands without either numbing out to the world’s troubles or feeling resigned upon confronting them.

This capacity has a name: possibility leadership. And there are a very specific set of inner and outer practices that we can use to develop it.

That’s the subject of my first book, which is available here.