Hope = Crucial Reinvention Strategy

(and I tell how a NYT article in 1991 revealed this to me)

What I read AFTER that Christmas Eve NYT epiphany

Yes, HOPE. The Jesuit scholar, William F. Lynch, defined hope as, “the fundamental knowledge and feeling that there is a way out of difficulty, that things can work out, that we as human persons can somehow handle and manage internal and external reality.” Reinvention intimidates and awes its participants. The necessary activities exhaust and exalt. To enter into this self-transformation without hope as a strategy is at best punishing and at worst defeating. This assertion arises not only from personal experience with my passel of reinventions, but more importantly with the frequent tribulations and occasional triumphs of others in an array of circumstances from multinational behemoths to midsize manufacturers, from refugees from the C Suite to incomers to corporate life. What I learned from those people is that without hope as a strategy, the chances of successful reinvention seemed always to hover between slim and none. Since I assume anyone who’s read these pieces thus far wants their reinvention to succeed, I urge you to keep reading from applying the wisdom of several sources to the situations of many different individuals.

Bank Failure and Learning Success

My first encounter with the idea of hope as a strategy came through an article in the New York Times on Christmas Eve in 1991 by a writer, Daniel Goleman, who would go on to great fame and fortune in popularizing the concept of emotional intelligence. In the article, Goleman referred to The Hope Scale devised by Charles Snyder who at the time was a professor and researcher at the University of Kansas. My interest stemmed from a difficult situation in which I found myself as vice president of small consulting company in White Plains New York. A local financial institution, American Savings Bank, had suffered several surprising consecutive setbacks: the sudden death of their founder and president, the discovery of deficiencies in their operations, and the overall pressures of the savings-and-loan crisis. Consequently, the bank was placed under federal control, which we’ve seen happen in 2023 to several banks. While examiners from government agencies in early 1992 considered whether to dissolve the institution and sell off its assets or merge it with another bank, they gave our boutique consulting firm the challenge of working with employees so that they would continue to be productive even though they faced a potentially bleak future. As I said, this was all happening at holiday time. Since the task was not one that fit my portfolio of skills at that time, I was simultaneously assembling Christmas presents for the kids, drinking too much eggnog, and reinventing myself as a consultant on personal and organizational change.

I got my inspiration through the New York Times

Yes, reading that article (and the rest of what CR Snyder wrote) changed my life.

Such an epiphany from reading is not uncommon I came to learn. People cite books from Middlemarch to Man’s Search for Meaning as being life-changing. That’s one of the reasons why my own advice for reinvention encourages a practice of wide reading. (Did you know that millennials read more books every year than baby boomers? Says so here. Good on them and all readers.)

Reading several quotes of Snyder in that 12/24/91 article struck me as not only pertinent to my current situation of trying to figure out how to do something that was going to be worthwhile for all these folks in a series of workshops and seminars but also as commonsensical:

Hope has proven a powerful predictor of outcome in every study we’ve done so far,”

Students with high hope set themselves higher goals and know how to work to attain them,” Dr. Snyder said. “When you compare students of equivalent intellectual aptitude and past academic achievements, what sets them apart is hope.”

What seemed particularly powerful to me was that the discussed experiments produced consistent results across a variety of populations. A fellow researcher operating on the same premise, Timothy Elliott — no relation that I know of — studied the efficacy of hope found in “a study of 57 people with paralysis from spinal cord injury, (that) those who reported more hope, compared with those having little hope, had less depression, greater mobility (despite similar levels of injury), more social contacts and more sexual intimacy.”

Susanna Schellenberg has written that “experience is fundamentally a matter of representing the world as being a certain way”. What Snyder was suggesting with his idea of hope is that we had more control over how we were perceiving what was happening to us than we might realize at times. A popular expression of this principle comes in the movie Eat Pray Love when one character tells another that

you have to learn to select your thoughts the same way that you select your clothes every day.

But Eat Pray Love was decades away and all I had was this New York Times article. So, over the holiday break, I haunted several libraries to get as much as I could of Doctor Snyder’s work to put together a learning session in which people would explore how much hope they had and how much hope they could develop. This is important about all of the so-called psychosocial characteristics: they are malleable. You may think that you’re stuck with a certain attitude, but there are very specific things that you can do about it; there are the factors that various researchers have found to be consistent with greater chances for survival and even for optimization of a difficult situation.

Snyder at the very beginning made that distinction that hope wasn’t a replay of the old saw that where there’s a will there is a way, but rather that you needed both the will and the ability to find and pursue different ways in order to reach your goal.

Simply put, hopeful thought reflects the belief that one can find pathways to desired goals and become motivated to use those pathways. … that hope, so defined, serves to drive the emotions and well-being of people.”  

In other words, think of this kind of hope as a sum of of the mental Willpower and Waypower that you have for your Goals. Snyder wasn’t only looking at something like reinvention. His notion of goals was broader: “Something we want to obtain — such as an object — or attain — like an accomplishment. … Mental targets for our thoughts.” In that wider context, think of willpower as “the driving force in our thinking.… A reservoir of determination and commitment that we can call on to help move us in the direction of the goal which we are attending at any given moment. It is made up of thoughts such as I can, I’ll try, I’m ready to do this, and I’ve got what it takes.”

And what about that strange word — waypower? Think of it as reflecting “the mental plans or roadmaps that guide hopeful form.… A mental capacity we can call on to find one or more effective ways to reach our goals.” Success is more likely where there’s a will and the WAYS.

That’s a good start. Next time we’ll present more on how to develop hope as a strategy AND its limitations.

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