Whitney L. Johnson: An interview by Bob Morris

Whitney L. Johnson dared to dream when she began her Wall Street career as a secretary. With courage and persistence, by her forties she had risen to become an Institutional Investor-ranked sell-side analyst. Whitney is the president and co-founder of Clayton Christensen’s investment firm, Rose Park Advisors, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and the Harvard Business Review blogs, and the author of Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream, published by Bibliomotion (May 2012).   Whitney was recognized by Inc. magazine as one of “12 People to Follow on Twitter in 2012” and one of Business Insider’s “54 Smart Thinkers Everyone Should Follow on Twitter.” For more, follow her blog, find her on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. Having invested in her own dreams, Whitney is passionate about encouraging others to take stock in theirs. She and her husband reside with their two children in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Morris: Before discussing Dare, Dream, Do, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Johnson: I started to write — my husband.  Crossed that out, thinking my parents.  Scratch that, because it’s my children.  Or maybe… it’s.  Scores of people have influenced my personal growth, but alas, I must list my parents as I think most of us must.

They provided me with many opportunities apart from school, including sewing, piano, and ice skating lessons.  But as the oldest child of parents who married because my mother was pregnant with me, and then later divorced, I always wondered if there might have been a different outcome had I been brilliant or attractive enough.

Though these memories pain me, I recognize these formative experiences have shaped who I am and what I value.  My desire to have a happy marriage and a happy family life is resolute.  Period.  When someone I know is affected by divorce, I understand.  I know the situation is complicated, regardless of why the marriage is dissolving.  My drive, my intense focus on improvement is likely a means of trying to measure up, and I’m quite certain my laser-like focus on encouraging and mentoring is my attempt to be the encouraging voice I wanted to hear.  Without a doubt, my parents have had the greatest influence on my personal growth.  But my husband is a close, and crucial, close second.  It is he who has helped me grow into a person that believes she measures up – at least most days.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Johnson:  Michael Brown, one of my bosses at BA-Merrill Lynch.   I was already an award-winning equity analyst, but I still didn’t quite see my potential.   He challenged me to step up my game – not in a you-can-do-better military style.  Instead, he was the first boss to ask for my ideas, and gave me the latitude to go do them.  During his tenure, I significantly outperformed myself in every measurable category.  The slope of the trajectory of my career steepened significantly because of Michael Brown.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Johnson: My husband and I arrived in New York twenty years ago, so he could pursue his PhD at Columbia.  I would never have gone to New York on my own, and I was terrified.  But someone had to earn the bread, so I began to look for a job.  We were in New York; I wanted to work on Wall Street.

But there were a few problems.  My degree was in music – meaning I’d never stepped foot in an accounting, finance or economics class, I had zero connections in New York, and women who came to Wall Street in the late 80s — became secretaries.  Which is what I did.

Across from my desk at 1345 Ave of the Americas, there was a bullpen of up-and-coming brokers, essentially a locker-room for twenty-something guys aspiring to become masters of the universe. In order to open accounts, they’d dial the phone, people would hang up, dial, hang up.  When they finally got someone on the phone, the pressure was so intense in this testosterone-filled room they inevitably went for the hard sell. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see this is a good investment.”  I’d always know the prospects were waffling, when I’d hear “throw down your pom-poms and get in the game.”

Initially I was offended, because I was a cheerleader in high school.  But one day after hearing “throw down your pom-poms” yet again, I thought – when am I going to throw down MY pom-poms – and get in MY game.   After all, my husband’s degree will take 5-7 years.  Why would I earn x if 10x is possible?

That was my turning point.  I began to take accounting and finance courses at night – and three years later – I had a boss who was willing to sponsor me in making the jump from secretary to investment banking analyst.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Johnson: Early on in my career, my musical training (practicing piano three hours a day, understanding music theory and music history, learning to sight read, to accompanying vocalist and instrumentalists, playing in a jazz band, playing a senior recital with 45 minutes of music fully memorized) was of little use.

But once I had the investment banking technical training (building a financial model, etc), my formal musical training allowed me to really kick up my career.  As Howard Gardner’s posits in his theory of multiple intelligences, musical intelligence isn’t “just about composing music, playing an instrument, singing well, or even learning a new language, the principles of organization involved in almost any kind of public presentation, whether organizing a conference, producing a play, or giving a speech have their origin in musical structure.”  Now, whether writing a research report, coaching entrepreneurs on how to pitch their ideas, or giving a speech, I have an innate sense of an idea’s arc and the requisite musicality in order to communicate my ideas.  Meta – but invaluable.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you began your business career on Wall Street as a secretary?

Johnson: In high school and college, if I studied hard, I got an A on a test.  If I got an A on a test, I had a high GPA.  A high GPA, I got into college.  And so on.  Once I entered the workforce, none of that really mattered.   I needed to know how to do things I’d never studied in school:  how to negotiate, to manage office politics, to navigate terrain that was mapped by the minds of men.

If you go to a foreign country, it would help that you were a superb driver, a Formula One winner even, but it’s not enough.  No GPS, no map, no guide.  You’ll quite possibly drive in circles, never getting where you want to go.   Likewise we need a map for the workplace.  The problem is there is no visible map.  It’s inchoate.  But it is.   I wish I’d known that I’d known that there was a map, and that I needed to get my hands on it and fast.

Morris: What are the most common misconceptions about how business is conducted on Wall Street? What in fact is true?

Johnson: That logical-mathematical intelligence is the coin of the realm – and decisions are made accordingly.  While these competencies are the price of entry, but more often than not, analysis is done to back up a fundamentally emotional decision.

What I also learned is that people don’t high tail it to Wall Street to be a money-grubbing Gordon Gekko.  The money and prestige are fantastic.  Don’t get me wrong.  But there’s the emotional and social satisfaction that comes from being a handmaiden to capitalism, whether funding a start-up, discovering an undervalued stocks, or bringing a company public.  Because, behind each of these start-ups and, and even stocks, are people with hopes and dreams.

Morris: When and why did you co-found Rose Park Advisors?

Johnson: I joined Clayton Christensen and his son as a founder partner of Rose Park Advisors in 2007.  At that point, Clay had already been applying his framework to stock-picking in his personal portfolio disruption to investing in his personal portfolio, and achieved an annual growth rate well in excess of the S&P 500.  Because of both my Wall Street expertise, and because he and I had worked successfully together on a number non-profit projects, to my everlasting wonder and delight, he ask me to help him professionalize the process.

Morris: In your opinion, is launching a new company today easier, more difficult, or about the same as it was (let’s say) 7-10 years ago? Please explain.

Johnson:  Easier.  There may be some cognitive bias because for me personally it would be easier given that I have more resources, including my experience, within my grasp, than I did 10 years ago.   But empirically speaking, because of the internet, cloud computing, even crowd sourcing, the cost of starting a business is literally 10c on the dollar of what it was 10 years ago.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Johnson:  Making our dreams happen is about leveraging the skills, money and time we already have, about starting where we are and avoiding the lottery mentality.  Instead of saying, if only I had a fairy godmother like Oprah, my nonprofit would take off, or if I had an investor to finance me, I could start my business, we look for the embarrassment of riches on hand.  The best leaders give people a pickaxe to mine for the riches that were theirs all along.

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Johnson:  The seeker of truth has a humility, a wondering, a willingness to say I don’t know; each trait enlivens; whereas the professed finder of truth frequently battles the deadening effects of arrogance, intransigence, and divisiveness.

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

Johnson: This goes to one of my deeply held beliefs – that you who you are, and what you do matters.   Or in the words of Stevie Wonder, “You can bet your life, and that, and twice its double, that God knew exactly where He wanted you to be placed.”

Morris: From Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Johnson: True.   I tend to swim in the waters of either/or – and so there is a piece of me that wants to reject this statement, but I simply can’t.  Our lives were meant to be daring, adrenalin-laced adventures – the adventure being to discover who we really are

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Johnson: The ancient Greek myth of Psyche is my guiding principle here. Psyche is a mortal woman who wants to find her estranged husband, Eros, the god of love and son of Aphrodite. Before they can be reunited, Aphrodite assigns Psyche four tasks, all of which are symbolic of skills she needs to handle power. Because each task requires her to do more than she feels capable of, Psyche is initially paralyzed by fear. However, because this is the only course that can reunite her with Eros, she chooses to proceed on this journey.  In one of the tasks, Psyche must sort a huge jumble of corn, barley, and poppy seeds into separate piles before morning. The task seems impossible given her time frame, until an army of ants comes to her aid. Sifting through our possibilities and establishing personal priorities in the face of conflicting feelings and competing loyalties requires a symbolic “sorting of the seeds.”  One of the important tasks in life is to learn to make choices, or paraphrasing Peter Drucker, to decide if something should be done at all.

Morris: From which non–business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Johnson: Enders’ Game by Orson Scott Card – a brilliant science fiction tale of disruptive innovation.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Johnson: One of my favorite business mantras is “patient for growth, impatient for profits”.  In order for this to be true, we must be willing to iterate, and faster the better, because it’s do, or don’t make payroll.  Ideally too, an entrepreneur will say, “This is what I believe will happen. Now let’s figure out how I where I could be wrong.”  This isn’t simple.  Particularly because  we frequently don’t even know what our deeply-held assumptions are.   Hence, a willingness to make ‘real’, not ‘pretend’ mistakes takes real courage.   Because just as strengths spring from our deeply-held assumptions, somewhere proximate to our strength is an Achilles-like vulnerability.

Morris: Long ago, Henry Ford is reported to have said something to the effect t, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” In your opinion, to what extent does one’s attitude determine one’s performance? Please explain.

Johnson: 100%.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Dare, Dream, Do. When and why did you decide to write it?

Johnson: When I took a sabbatical from Wall Street in 2005, I was brimming with confidence at having risen from a secretary to an award-winning stock analyst.  Having discovered that my dreams could true, I began to ask others, particularly women, about their own dreams.  While many of these well-educated, eminently capable women confessed to not really having a dream, often there was an unspoken, “I’m not sure it is my privilege to dream.”  Both concerned, but mostly saddened, I knew I had to do something.  To build the case that dreaming is an inalienable right, but I needed to build a case.  I began my Dare to Dream blog in 2006, which eventually became the inspiration for Dare, Dream, Do.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Johnson: I initially thought the third section ‘Do’ would be a tutorial on how to achieve certain dreams, like running a marathon, or starting a business.   But as I tried to map out this third section, I kept getting stuck.   Until during a conversation with a friend, I realized that what I do well – superbly well, in fact, is to activate people’s dreams.  Her advice: Write this chapter as if you are individually coaching one of your readers.  Articulate the process of doing a dream, rather than a specific dream.  That’s your magic.

Morris: What are among the most common —  and durable – misconceptions about being “daring”?

Johnson: That daring is about headline grabbing feats – like jumping off a cliff.   Yet, the most difficult daring we do is almost always hidden from view because it takes place in our mind and heart.

Morris: What are the most significant differences between dreaming and fantasizing?

Johnson: In Hogwarts Castle, there is an unused chamber that houses the Mirror of Erised  that “shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts”.   The mirror beguiles, and is therefore dangerous.  As Professor Dumbledore explains, “this mirror gives neither knowledge nor truth.  Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible…it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”  Most of us have a desperate desire, something we may even desperately deserve, that we don’t or can’t have – at least in the way we imagine.  But inside of that fantasy we can’t have are the seeds of a dream that is within reach.

Morris: You include in your brilliant book several dozen mini-commentaries from quite a variety of people who share their own experiences with daring, dreaming, and doing. For example, from Emily Orton (“Running Down a Dream,” Pages 10-12), Athelia LeSueur (“Fortunate Frustrations,” Pages 778), and Saydi Shumway (“The Snapshot That Changed My Life,” Pages 173-175).

Here’s my two-part question: How did you select the contributors? and Why did you include their mini-commentaries within your narrative?

Johnson:  I love how the mini-commentaries came about.   In August 2008, I bought advertising on Design Mom for a month to increase the readership of my blog.  In order to get a return on my investment, I needed to have content every day.  Because I was in the middle of launching a hedge fund, I couldn’t generate all this content by myself, and asked women to guest blog, though everyone once in awhile people approach me.   This blog is exponentially richer because of their narratives.

In the book specifically, I included stories because I wanted it to be a space for women’s voices.  It’s easier to find our own voice when we hear others. Interestingly, when I started shopping the book, most agents, my current agent Josh Getzler being a notable exception, wanted me to rewrite the stories in my own words.  There weren’t many potential deal breakers, but that was one of them.

Morris: Here’s a follow-up question. However different the contributors to your book may be in most respects, what do they have in common in terms of lessons to be learned from the experiences they share?

Johnson: One of the only criteria for contributing is that the writer needs to write about something with which they are wrestling, so that they can write their way to understanding – in real time—and we can experience their struggle – and learn along with them.

Morris: What specifically can other persons do to help someone to dare, dream, and do? How best to request and then benefit from that assistance?

Johnson: First, honor your own dreams.  When you dream your own dreams, you can let others dream theirs.  Second, be an equal opportunity dreamer.    If I had only told my story, it would have been very easy for someone to construe this book as ‘how to have a successful career’.  By including mini-commentaries from women with a wide range of dreams, my intention was to honor all dreams.

Morris: How specifically to “make space” for one’s dreams…and for dreaming?

Johnson: In theory, clearing a space sounds easy.  In reality it’s not.  When we clear a space, we are moving aside something (probably something we are doing for someone else) to make space for our thing.  For women, in particular, many have forgotten how to do this.

But in recognizing that this won’t be easy, in fact, in may be comfortable, it becomes even more important to have a space where we go to dream – a physical spot or place – can be a desk, an office, your car, on your bed.   And to especially, to create a space in the day:  this space – or time – can be early in the morning, after children go to school, while exercising or late at night.  Children make time (or we make them make time) to do homework.  As folklorist and mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote:  You must have a room, or certain hour of the day, where you can experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.”

Morris: Throughout history, the greatest leaders were dreamers whose “vision” attracted and inspired followers. In your opinion, which of them best exemplifies the principles in your book? How so

Johnson: I remember reading about Harriet Tubman as a young girl.  I thought the underground railroad was a magical train track underground.  She decided to dare the dream of emancipation, and then she did.

Morris: How specifically can teachers as well as coaches help the young people entrusted to their care to dare to dream and then pursue that dream with passion and faith?

Johnson: There’s an important story from my parenting annals (pg. 67) from when my son who is now fifteen, was ten.  He was auditioning for a local play, and yet now knowing if he would be cast, I found myself saying, “You know, David, there aren’t very many parts for boys your age, so don’t be disappointed if you aren’t picked.”  The words just tumbled out, and rather than my son finding the words comforting, he asked why I was being so unsupportive. “But, but, but…” I began to defend my words to myself, I’m just trying to protect him.  I don’t want him to be disappointed.  Really?  Protect him or protect me?  When our children tell us about something that they are planning to do, no matter how long the odds are, I am learning to listen, to commend them for daring.   That’s what I would do for my friends, why would I do anything less for my children?  Not to be too hard on ourselves.  There’s a reason, why.  Our children are an extension of ourselves, a projection we put up to the world, of how well we are doing.   No matter how ward we try we will live through them just a little.

We can keep this impulse in check by getting on with our own lives, leaving no part of our lives unlived, modeling for young people how to dream, opening their view to the successes, and especially to the failures.   As they see us fail, then dust ourselves off, and prepare to fail (I mean succeed) again, they will learn to dream.

Morris: I commend you in the brilliant chapter titles, all of which are relevant and most of which are uniquely creative. Please explain the most important point for each of several. First, Chapter 2: “To Find Your Voice, to Find Yourself”

Johnson: In Writing to Change the World, author Mary Pipher declares, “Voice is everything we are, all that we have observed, the emotional chords that are uniquely ours—all our flaws and all of our strengths, expressed in words that best reflect us. It is essence of self, distilled and offered in service to the world…”  When we dream, we dare to find our voice, believing we have something to say, to contribute to the world’s conversation.  In the process of using our words, articulating our views, we discover who we really are.

Morris: Next, Chapter 9:”Build on Your Feminine Strengths”

Johnson:  Society has taught us to idealize the masculine values of thinking, power and achieving at the expense of feminine values such as relatedness and nurturing.   Many women have spent their lives in a constant state of inferiority, because to be feminine was second best.  Women, therefore, along with men, face the psychological dilemma of developing masculine traits at the expense of the feminine.  In this chapter, I build a case as to how being female is a truly great strength, and that the best dreams, give life not only to ourselves, but to those we love.

Morris: Then Chapter 10: “Rightsize Your Dreams”

Johnson:  Several years ago, I had a black-tie event to attend.  For the first time ever I had a dress made.  It was a luxury, I’ll admit, but it was a liberating experience.  I chose fabric that matched my skin tone, hair and personality.  I selected a pattern that would look good on my body.  Most lovely of all was the moment when the seamstress sized the skirt of the dress to me:  my waist, my body, my measurements.  It wasn’t about my fitting into the dress, but the dress fitting me.  The same experience can be had with our dreams.  They can be off-the-rack, but with some effort on our part, our dreams can be tailored to us:  from our talents, competencies, and principles, and identities.

More often than not, rightsizing a dream involves reducing the scope of one dream, to make room for another, or in recalibrating as dreams die or are deferred, but it’s important that we also be willing to and open to supersizing a dream

Morris: Finally, Chapter 13: “Learn to Bootstrap”

Johnson: After my first year of college, my mom announced she was out of money.  It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but tough luck.  I went home, got a job as a girl Friday at Priam, a Silicon Valley-based corporation, and saved what I earned.  A year later when I returned to college, knowing something I hadn’t known when I left:  I may need to make my own way in life to get what I want, and I can.

Here’s the reality:  whether times are good or bad, many of us don’t have what we want, or what we perceive we “need’, to pursue our needs.  But, if we will get to work, leveraging the skills, money and time, we already have, if we will bootstrap, the odds actually tilt in our favor.  According to the Kauffman Foundation, “51% of the Fortune 500 companies began during a recession or bear market or both.”  Perhaps then, the bootstrap mentality, isn’t just about developing a can-do attitude, but rather that in the warm embrace of our constraints, we are far more open to rethinking how things get done.

Morris: Let’s focus now on several of your core concepts. For those who have not as yet read Dare, Dream, Do, what does it mean to “be the hero [or heroine] of your story”?

Johnson:  I love reality TV.  It began with American Idol, and more recently, it is So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, and The Next Food Network Star.   While not writing about reality TV directly, the mythologist Joseph Campbell, provides an explanation for the genre’s success: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellowman.”

We see people who are hoping to be called out of their everyday lives to an adventure, to be tested on a road of trials in hopes of obtaining the ultimate boon. Watching, we find pieces of ourselves mirrored in the contestants; we, too, are on the mythic journey of a hero.

As we begin to claim a central place in our lives, we can begin to discover our dreams.  If we tend to move ourselves to the sidelines and live through the dreams of others, dreaming our own dreams will require a paradigm shift.   We can trigger this shift by telling stories about ourselves, stories in which we are the central character – or the hero of the story.

Morris: How to “embrace discovery”?

Johnson:  Dreaming is a discovery-driven process.   We envision something that’s not yet fully formed, and as we set short-term goals around that dream, our dream takes shape.  We almost always think we know where we are going, but in reality we don’t.  Fortunately, we are in good company.  According to academic Amar Bhide for 70% of all successful new businesses, the strategy they initially pursued is not the one that leads to success.  Rephrased for our purposes, for 70% of all successful new dreams, our first plan of action will not achieve our dream.

Whereas conventional planning involves creating a checklist, and then measuring how many checks we put on the list, discovery-driven planning isn’t, nor can it be, about the checklist.  It’s assumed the plan will change, because as new information comes to light, our plan will need to change to accommodate the new information.   Most of us are quite capable at conventional planning.  We’re less schooled in discovery-driven thinking, the kind of thinking that helps us pursue our dreams.  That’s not altogether surprising.  Convention is control.   Discovery is letting go.   But it is in the embracing of discovery that we can feel our way to what we were meant to do.

Morris: What about “mining for competencies”?

Johnson: Dreams aren’t somewhere over the rainbow, but rather right under our feet.   Not only the resources to do the dreams, but to know precisely what our dreams are.  We can mine for our possibilities among our innate talents, competencies, background and beliefs.   We can identify our innate talents and strengths by what invigorates us – what we enjoy doing, what makes us feel strong.  Our competencies are more readily identified because it is expertise that we typically work very hard for.  A third category of strengths include our principles, or core beliefs that guide our actions, and are an essential part of our truest selves, while the fourth involves our identity, whether gender, race, religion or ethnicity.

Morris: And finally, “date your dream”?

Johnson: While some have a favorite dream that they want to pursue wholeheartedly, many of us, have a half-dozen half-formed dreams.  If you are a recovering perfectionist like me, it is really hard to even start.  Which is why I believe in dating dreams – giving our selves permission to date dreams with a no-commitment clause.   There are many commitments that you and I make in this life – they are the oughts – commitments we need to keep.  But when it comes to dreams, there are no oughts.  We get to date, speed-date even.  Decide when we are ready.

Morris: Why create a “dare to dream team”?

Johnson:  Few of us dream well on our own, and women in particular, find it difficult, because the skills we bring to any enterprise are so often overlooked or undervalued; this is why we need a Dare to Dream team.  Our team might include friends, but more than likely it will consist of friends of friends, or contacts of contacts, or people we meet serendipitously.  The team is separate from those who love and encourage us; these are people who know how to do what we want to do.

Morris: When creating such a team, any especially important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind?

Johnson: As I’ve analyzed the dynamic of my relationships with my own Dare to Dream teams (yes, there can be multiples teams) what has worked (and especially what hasn’t), here’s what I’ve learned:

Start with short-term projects:  Whether you intend to start a business or a non-profit, before expanding the scope of a relationship, work on a short-term project, whether a co-authoring a blog post, or co-chairing a benefit for the community.   This gives you an opportunity to vet one another.

Trust our collaborator’s competence:  Once you’ve worked on a few limited-scope projects, and fully worked out the rules of engagement, it’s important to trust our collaborators.  If we’re micromanaging, we may need to just stop.  Or maybe we didn’t choose our partners as well as we thought we did.

Give others their due in terms of compensation and credit:  when our collaborators do good work, give them credit.  Pay them if the transaction is for-profit and whether for profit or not, tell as many people about the good work that person does.

Morris: With all due respect to the importance of daring, dreaming, and doing, the bankruptcy courts are filled with fillings by attorneys for companies whose leaders were daring dreamers whose decisions and behavior failed miserably.  Here’s my question: How to determine when one’s dreams and efforts to achieve them are ill-advised?

Johnson:  Dare, Dream, Do – Fail?   Sometimes we will fail – even having done everything properly.   Failures are part of the discovery-driven process.  To your point, though, my dreams and efforts have been ill-advised, when like Harry Potter, I gaze into the Mirror of Erised, and because I so desperately want that fantasy, I give away my power, agreeing to terms of a contract, for example, thinking – oh, it will be ok – we all like each other.  And then it’s not.  I remember being once being advised by more than one person that I trusted not to do business with a particular person.  I wanted that thing so badly, I was so entranced by what I hoped it would be, I didn’t listen.  It was an important interim failure

Morris: There are times when “baby steps” are more appropriate than are bold initiatives. Is it possible to “dream small”? Please explain

Johnson:  Because dreaming is a discovery-driven process, we don’t know the end from the beginning.  If we start with a bold initiative, we may find ourselves fully drawing down all of our resources – not just money, but also energy, and contacts, only to find that we need to pivot.  When you dog-leg pivot, and there’s at least a 70% probability that you will, you’ve got to still have something in the proverbial bank.

Morris: Why did you decide to conclude the book with “The Story Goes On.”

Johnson:  Dreaming is a process.  When we dream, we are invited to dream again, and again.  When we dream, we take on our lives fully, embracing round.  When we dream, we see hope smiling brightly before us, and we teach the next generation how to dream.  For women especially, there is little that can rival the raw joy we feel, and the new dreams that are born, as we welcome children into the world.  There is a magnificent circularity to it all – The Story Goes On captures that beautifully.

Further, including the lyrics of this particular song, was a lovely piece of “dare to dream” memorabilia because I had dared Macy Robison to create a cabaret act.  Most importantly, as I accompanied Macy when she sang The Story Goes On, the music could convey inexpressible depth of feeling behind the ideas in this book that my words never could.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in the Dare, Dream, Do, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Why?

Johnson: Disrupt your status quo.  Dream your very own dream.  Do.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Johnson:  This has been a wonderful learning process for me.  Thank you.

*     *     *

Whitney invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

To visit her homepage, please click here.

To visit her Amazon page, please click here.

To visit HBR blog page, please click here.

To visit the Rose Park Advisors  page, please click here.





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