Creating inspiration, part 5: Define the future you want to create

The fifth ingredient for creating inspiration and emotional engagement in a time of change is to paint a picture of the future you want to create.

There are several ways you might do this.

One is to define a specific, measurable, and time-bound goal. This was the approach that John F Kennedy used when he announced America’s intention to go to the Moon:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

But being vague and metaphorical can work just as well. Moses promised his people:

“A land flowing with milk and honey.”

and they followed him through the wilderness for 40 years.

Donald Trump promised to:

“Drain the swamp”


“Make America great again.”

These were equally undefined goals but they inspired enough people to vote for him that he became president of the United States.

So defining an inspiring future isn’t about being specific or vague: it’s about articulating the outcome you want to create in a way that inspires your audience.

Usually this involves painting a positive picture. For example, Martin Luther King Junior said:

“I have a dream… I have a dream… I have a dream…”

He didn’t say, “I have a problem I need to be fixed.”

But you can also inspire people by describing a future filled with toil and struggle.

In the bleak beginnings of World War Two, the British people didn’t need a “dream” — they just needed to keep going. For them, then, ‘inspiration’ meant not giving up. So Winston Churchill gave them exactly what they needed when he said:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets… We shall never surrender.”

These two speeches might seem complete opposites. But they both worked because both were appropriate for their audiences and their times.

Defining an inspiring future is not about being specific or vague, practical or aspirational. As Napoleon Bonaparte said, it’s about the fact that:

“A leader is a dealer in hope.”

Your job, with this building block, is to create that hope — to paint a picture of the future you want to create, in a way that is inspiring to this particular audience at this particular time.

The better you do can that, with yourself as well as other people, the more you will become antifragile.

Do you have a clear vision of the future you are working to create? Is it clear and specific or warm and fuzzy? Is it giving you and the people around you what you need now?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

Photo By S. Bhaskara Rao via

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