Whose Dream Is This?

It looked like a country club. That was the first thing that stood out for me. It was set back about a half-mile from the entrance to the subdivision and was positioned along what appeared to be a private lake. A huge Dynasty-style turnaround and portico framed the entrance. Off to the side was what seemed like stables for an army of horses, but I later learned it was merely a six-car garage.

Welcome to the Dream Home.

You’ve probably been to one of these showcase homes in your own community. Some charitable organization sponsors the building of a five-star property complete with every room fashioned by local interior designers. A willing and well-off family ultimately will live in the home, but only after hordes of local home furnishings worshippers stroll awestruck through each room, their jaws dropping lower and lower with each additional “can you believe that?” uttered excitedly.

After completing our tour, my friends and I all agreed that to us, this dream home was a nightmare. Not that the home wasn’t stunning. It was. But the fact that almost every element of it was over the top eventually wore us down.

To put it in perspective, you probably need to understand that I live in a restored 1892 Victorian bungalow in the heart of a downtown Indianapolis historic districts. All the rooms in my two-bedroom house are appropriately proportioned: they offer enough space to function comfortably, but not a whole lot more. The Dream Home’s formal living room was about the same size as the entire first floor of my house.

Though one could write quite thoroughly about how a monster home like this reflects American capitalism at either its best or worst, I’ve found myself reflecting more on the fact that this is being held up as something worth dreaming for. In that respect, the home parallels any vision that an individual or group of people has for a project or an organization. And just as the ultimate test of a dream’s home success is measured by the question “Would I want to live here if I could?” so is the ultimate success of an organizational vision determined by whether or not it represents a dream that others would find worth inhabiting and working for.

The Dream Home has an interesting twist. Most of the owner’s real furnishings are put into storage during the showcase tours, and the rooms are instead filled with designer-selected furnishings. Prior to moving back into the home, the owners have to decide which of the loaned art and furnishings to purchase and how they will incorporate their stored possessions into the new designer layout.

Isn’t that what happens when we offer a vision for an organization? Not only do others decide whether or not it is a dream worth getting excited about, they also have to determine how they will work their own possessions (think priorities and projects) into this new home they are being asked to inhabit.

If our colleagues and stakeholders can’t “see themselves” in the dream we are offering, it’s going to get awfully lonely at the estate, particularly after all the furniture companies have come and hauled away their loaned items. We’ll have a monstrosity of a vision, but none of the furnishings to make it feel like home. I’ve run into quite a few people whose vision for an organization is so specific that they essentially have furnished every last detail of every element of the potential plan. So unlike the Dream Home, with their vision you have to take all the furnishings as is or not move in at all.

And who’s to say what any one of us should consider to be our dream home?

Our world is filled with social norms and artificial standards individuals try to conform to even though they may be completely unrelated to their personal values and priorities. This “one size fits all” model for visions and dreams is very out-of-touch with the array of preferences evidenced in our increasingly diverse work and home communities. Rather than sell “the” dream to others, we might be better-served by helping them discover their own dreams, exploring how their dreams might connect to an overall vision for our organization or community, and then surrounding them with helpful people and resources.