In a recent HBR article – The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson puts forward an interesting characteristic of Jobs as being fundamental to his success – bending reality. To quote in his own words, this is what he says “Jobs’s (in)famous ability to push people to do the impossible was dubbed by colleagues his Reality Distortion Field, after an episode of Star Trek in which aliens create a convincing alternative reality through sheer mental force. Those who did not know Jobs interpreted the Reality Distortion Field as a euphemism for bullying and lying. But those who worked with him admitted that the trait, infuriating as it might be, led them to perform extraordinary feats.”
What makes people like Jobs know that something is possible making them to push their teams hard for it and not accepting No for an answer – despite the facts and figures stacked against it. Somewhere deep inside them, they know that things are going to work out their way. Contrary to the reality that is front of them and others, another version of reality is playing in their minds, which bends the actual reality.
These are not day dreamers, but people who are very rational and logical. It can be said that probably intuition not intellect is the driving factor for them in these situations.
Its like the subtle difference between knowledge and wisdom. As the popular adage goes, Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting in your fruit salad. These leaders have that sense of wisdom or intuition or whatever we want to name it. Definitely in the complex environment of business , its not that straightforward as a tomato in a fruit salad. But somehow these leaders are able to simplify things enabling them to have clarity.
There is something interesting here for project managers who are faced almost daily with challenging situations. When faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, it would be wiser to stop and think if really the data points make sense and even if they do, is it worth trying the impossible. At the same time It does not have to be crazy decision akin to asking your teams to deliver something which is really impossible.
Finally, this is not about bullying the team or lying to oneself but inspiring and working with your teams to achieve it together.
Bending the reality to create your vision of success needs to be done together with the teams as they are integral part to making the impossible possible.