Build a Stronger Business by Tapping the Assets of Your Many Possible Selves

Build a Stronger Business by Tapping the Assets of Your Many Possible SelvesEntrepreneurs and leaders like to shake things up, reimagine the status quo, and challenge themselves to see what horizons can be reached tomorrow that seemed nearly impossible yesterday. To do that, you actually tap into a concept of “you” that only exists in the future. That’s powerful because being able to imagine a future you leading a successful and growing business can motivate current you to take actions that will bring those dreams to life.

Organization and personality research shows that developing a sense of your best possible future self helps drive positive change. Faculty members from Stanford University say, “Possible selves are important, first, because they function as incentives for future behavior . . .” Thinking about who you want to be in the future motivates you to act now.

Can you see it?

Despite sounding a little ethereal, the idea of having multiple possible selves that don’t exist quite yet is very similar to growing into a new role or maturing as a leader. And research shows that the image you have of your possible selves can have a very concrete here-and-now impact on your decision making. The more vivid that image, the more powerful it is.

Imagining your future self achieving a desired outcome has been shown to help translate goals into the kind of purposeful action that makes them happen. The more specifically you see your future self accomplishing a goal, the more that clear mental picture helps shrink the distance between your current state and desired state. That helps energize your activities to bring it to life.

When you stop and think about it, most decisions you make about your business are grounded in a process of imagining yourself and your company under various alternative future outcomes. If you raise your price, will customers leave? If you buy the building, will you be cash-strapped? If you hire candidate x will she deliver the sales?

The entrepreneurial mind

In studies with college students in China who opted to pursue entrepreneurship upon graduation, researchers found that individuals with a strong “future self-concept” were more likely to make choices to benefit that potential self and help ensure the survival of their business, such as carefully weighing risk-return potential.

The researchers also found that having a strong future self-concept could help individuals persist in the face of pressures and setbacks in ways that would enable them to ultimately reap the benefits of their entrepreneurial choices.

Play to your strengths

Another avenue for exploring the possible selves that live within you is to use the Reflected Best Self (RBS) exercise to tap into talents you may not even realize you have, and then develop an action plan to capitalize on them. Developed by faculty from the University of Michigan, you can follow these steps to complete the Reflected Best Self exercise (RBS).

  1. Collect feedback from a variety of people inside and outside your work life about your strengths and specific examples of times you used them in ways that were meaningful to that person or their organization. The developers of the exercise suggest requesting feedback via email for efficiency and candor.
  2. Identify patterns by looking for consistent themes that emerge from the diverse input and then cluster similar examples together that highlight shared themes. These groupings may reinforce ideas you already hold about your strengths, shed light on those you take for granted, or reveal strengths you were unaware of or had thought others may have perceived more negatively.
  3. Compose a self-portrait by writing a description that incorporates the feedback you’ve gathered into a composite of you at your best. Begin your two- to four-paragraph narrative with “When I am at my best, I . . .”
  4. Redesign your work to build on your strengths. Although this can usually be done within the parameters of a current role by making small adjustments in how you work and invest your time, founders will likely have even greater flexibility to match core activities to strengths.

Founders already look into the future, identify a gap and then create something new to fill it. Now, you can use that same visioning process to create a gameplan for how to grow and transform into the best version of your future self too.