The Journey Beyond Fear: How to transform pressure into passion

In The Journey Beyond Fear, entrepreneur and renowned business strategist John Hagel III shares insights and tools you need to know to successfully overcome uncertainties and fear.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer on

"The edge is where you learn the most." Even so, John Hagel discovered most leaders stop short of living on the edge. Bold progress rarely follows bold proclamations due to one common cause. Hagel is an entrepreneur, prolific bestselling author, and renowned business strategist. He served as a partner at McKinsey, where he helped open its Silicon Valley office and launched two new practices.  

"Debilitating pressure to perform leads to fear," says Hagel. "More and more people around the world are acknowledging the fear they feel and are seeking ways to overcome it. Fear had been spreading well before the current pandemic, but the pandemic has intensified it. The pandemic has helped to make it more acceptable to acknowledge the fear and increased our desire to move beyond fear."

Hagel has spent over 40 years in Silicon Valley as a management consultant, entrepreneur, speaker and author. What drives him to live on the edge is his desire to help individuals and institutions around the world increase their impact in a rapidly changing world. Realizing results is synonymous with taking The Journey Beyond Fear, a personal and a professional journey Hagel details in his newly released book of the same title. 

In The Journey Beyond Fear, Hagel provides the insights and tools you need to know during times of uncertainty when fear sets in. Hagel provides a framework for drawing out positive emotions to improve outcomes using three positive pillars: 

  1. Narratives: The way you frame your future and the call to action for yourself and others can become the catalyst to launch you on the first steps of your journey. 
  2. Passion: The fuel that provides momentum -- the excitement about generating increasing impact that you will need to overcome the inevitable roadblocks and obstacles in your path. 
  3. Platforms: The accelerants that help you progress more quickly and achieve greater impact by connecting and learning with other people on similar journeys. 

"All of us are living the same paradox, feeling on one hand a sense of nearly limitless potential and on the other hand, a fear of being left behind," Hagel explains. "Our challenge is to respond to this pressure in ways that build hope and excitement, allowing us to seize the opportunities before us and make the most of them."

Success Starts With Your Story

The stories we tell ourselves and others -- from our colleagues to our customers to our communities -- stimulate our imaginations and our emotions. What's missing from our stories are narratives, specifically opportunity based narratives.

"Narratives are open-ended, have no resolution, and matter to your audience," Hagel explains. "What makes narratives so powerful is their explicit call to action -- the message that their successful resolution depends on what we do. The power of narratives is that they move us from observers to active participants. Narratives help persuade us that what we do matters. Narratives without stories are too abstract, and stories without narratives can have limited impact."  

Narratives have the opportunity to:

  • Focus us on the future
  • Focus us on action
  • Focus us on others
  • Catalyze passion

All narratives are either threat-based or opportunity-based. Threat-based narratives reinforce who and what we should fear. By design, they create polarization and limit our belief that alternative choices are always on and always available. Threat based narratives also make us more skeptical of and resistant to change.

By contrast, opportunity-based narratives "focus...on the ability to achieve a positive impact for yourself or for those you care about by doing something you previously thought impossible," according to Hagel. "We all hunger for hope and opportunity. We all want to accomplish more than we have in the past and achieve more of our potential. We need to find new ways to craft and propagate opportunity-based narratives that can bring us together and motivate us to accomplish the seemingly impossible."

Take a moment to consider your organization's marketing messages. Your employee engagement campaigns. And your customer communications.  How much of your narrative is focused on opportunity? On achieving the impossible? Or on a call to action that motivates your audience to create the future with you?   

"The best institutional narratives reveal a deep understanding of what the customer needs, inspiring them to seek it out themselves," Hagel continues. That may seem counterintuitive until you consider the success of Apple's "Think Different" campaign. Rob Stilton, who was part of the creative team, describes what it was like to create this opportunity based narrative

"It was a billboard campaign that had simple black and white photographs of revolutionary people and events. One ad had a photo of Einstein. Another had a photo of Thomas Edison. Another had a photo of Gandhi. Another had the famous photo of flowers placed in gun barrels during the protest of the Vietnam War. At the top of each image was the rainbow-colored Apple logo and the words "Think Different." Nothing else.  

After the video played, a series of title cards appeared. There are people who see the world differently. They see things in new ways. They invent, create, imagine. We make tools for these kinds of people. Because while some might see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Think different.

Apple played to one of the most powerful positive human emotions: belonging. Its opportunity based narrative reinforced that being different is the basis of belonging -- a message that matters to every human on earth. The call to action? To invent, create and imagine. To reveal your genius.

"If narratives are properly framed, they can unleash a wave of experimentation, tinkering and exploration that can lead to breakthrough insights from unexpected quarters," Hagel explains. "And Apple's campaign is one brilliant example."

Zoom In, Zoom Out

Creating the future requires moving beyond fear. "Fear shortens time horizons," Hagel explains. "And short time horizons are the enemy of strategic thinking and planning. Breakthrough innovation happens on a long-term horizon. And fear traps us in survival mode on a short-term horizon." 

One technique Hagel teaches to strike a balance between living in present fear and living in the future is called Zoom In, Zoom Out. The mistake most companies make, he asserts, is focusing their strategic planning efforts on the three to five year horizon. The best companies zoom in to the 6 to 12 month horizon. Then zoom out to the 10 to 20 year horizon. And, within the Zoom In, Zoom out activity, the goal is to explore on compelling question: What is the opportunity that could be meaningful and exciting to everyone? 

Ray Wang, CEO and founder of a Silicon Valley-based advisory firm Constellation Research, and I spoke with Hagel on our weekly show DisrupTV about the power of narratives, passion of the explorer and how to best use platforms to scale positive outcomes. 

Hagel offers three other questions to consider while creating the future and crafting the resulting opportunity based narratives:

  1. How can we move beyond fear and find ways to cultivate hope and excitement?
  2. How can we connect with others to make this journey together?
  3. How can we amplify our impact in the areas that really excite us?

Hagel provides insights on how to transform pressure into passion. He reminds us that there is opportunity to turn our stress and fear into excitement that can lead to higher impact. Hagel concludes that these are the actions we need to take in order to use positivity as an enabler for success. It starts with finding and nurturing our passion of the explorer. We must explicitly reflect and develop our own personal narrative. Write it down and share it with others. We must evolve our environment in order to find greater alignment with our narrative and surroundings. We must connect with others because people will amplify your efforts. Finding your personal tribe can help with celebrating successes, raising the bar, encouraging others when obstacles arise, holding each other accountable, and improving the cycle of goodness that can only come from a community. We must harness platforms including learning platforms to scale efforts. We must focus on small moves at the beginning. "Smart moves, smartly made, can set the big things in motion," said Hagel. 

"Narrative, Passions & Platforms are the three pillars of positive emotions we all need if we are going to reach our destinations," Hagel concludes. "If we don't understand the emotions driving our choices and actions, we'll never be able to get people to have more impact."

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce. Her work focuses on strategies for personal and professional success, and she regularly works with executives, managers, and future leaders at companies of all sizes globally. Mangia launched two new books in 2020: Listen Up! How to Tune In To Customers, And Turn Down the Noise and Working From Home:  Making the New Normal Work For You -- both from Wiley. Mangia has been featured in Forbes and regularly writes for Thrive Global and ZDNet. Committed to diversity and inclusion, Mangia serves on her company's Racial Equality and Justice Task Force. Mangia is a TEDx speaker and the author of Success With Less, a book that chronicles her own personal journey through a life-threatening health crisis. Mangia's high-impact keynotes help organizations to access the future of work via innovative insights around the voice of the customer.

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