A coaching client recently started off a call with “Well, I’ve got this ‘pie in the sky’ idea.” She sounded really flat and dejected.
“Pie in the sky” is an expression used to refer to a sham promise or to any prospect of future happiness which is unlikely ever to be realized.
The phrase was first documented in an early 20th century folk song from the labor movement, which said ““Work and pray, live on hay. You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”
In other words, your suffering here on earth will be rewarded in heaven. But life on earth is still pretty miserable. No wonder she sounded so dejected.
“Great, I love pie in the sky ideas. Let’s hear it.”
“Sure. Bring it on.”
She then described an idea for her business and the desire for technology that would implement certain functions to connect with her customers.
Two very interesting things happened in the course of our conversation.
First, we discovered that many aspects of her idea were not unrealistic at all. In fact, they were all simple fixes that could be implemented now, based on existing technologies, with a minimal investment. While I didn’t know exactly how to do this, I could immediately think of a dozen people she could talk to who could help her figure it out. She was blown away by the realization that the solution to her problem was so readily available.
When we have specialized knowledge, we know a lot about certain things. But there is so much that we don’t know. (For a great example, check out Nassim Taleb’s book, Black Swan. He tells a story about Umberto Eco’s collection of unread books. He called it his antilibrary – what we know we don’t know – which at some point becomes much larger than our actual library of what we do know.)
To help my client understand this concept, I asked her a vague question about something I knew was in her domain of expertise. She immediately came up with several ideas, resources, and people to call. I pointed this out to her. “See how what is pie in the sky to me is an easy solution for you? See how it is quickly brought down to earth in the here and now once you connect to other people?”
So verbalize your pie in the sky idea to a few people. You may find that it is easily accomplished via existing methods or technologies you simply didn’t know about, but they do.
Second, we found that the qualities of the pie in the sky desires are illuminating and insightful. Here’s what I mean. After we sorted out a few technical options for her to pursue, I asked the following question:
“Let’s imagine that the pie in the sky solution existed right now. What benefits or qualities would it bring to your life and business?” She listed a few things, but the big ones were simplicity and elegance.
“Ok, so those qualities are what you are really after, right?”
Yes, it’s not just about the technology.
“So if there were other ways to bring those qualities into your life and business, would that appeal to you?”
“So how could we get those qualities into your life right now?”
We spent the rest of our session brainstorming actions she could take to bring simplicity and elegance into her business and life. Most of them had nothing to do with technology and required no monetary investment. They did however require clearing out some commitments and having conversations with certain key people in her life.
So what’s the power of a “pie in the sky” idea? From this experience, we figured out a pie in the sky idea may not be impossible after all. It may take some work, time, and money to implement, but it is certainly doable. And in the meantime, the qualities that the pie in the sky idea would bring into your life can be brought into reality right now in other ways.
If you are a leader, have a pie in the sky session. Ask a bunch of your people their pie in the sky ideas about your business. What is it that they fantasize about yet think is impossible? You may find that some of these ideas could actually be implemented relatively easily and identify bigger possibilities that you can tap into right now.
By the way, suppose you start talking to people about your pie in the sky idea. After following this trail, you discover that there is no existing solution available using current technology. Guess what? You may have discovered a big business opportunity.
If you are a coach/consultant, ask your clients about their pie in the sky ideas. Ask them “What’s something that you’ve been kicking around, dreaming about – which you’d consider pie in the sky – completely impossible. Tell me about that. Let’s see if we can bring those qualities into the present.”
And don’t forget to ask yourself, too. “So what’s your pie in the sky idea?”
Bring it on!