How Big Dreamers and Non-Dreamers Get Along - Emily Grabatin
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Would you consider yourself a big dreamer or a non-dreamer?

Of course, there are more nuances to people than how we dream about our future. However, how you interact with someone’s style of ideation and implementation matters. Understanding what dreamers and non-dreamers value and how they express it can have a huge impact on your confidence and progress. Inevitably, dreamers and non-dreamers not only attract each other, they need each other.

I’ve spent the majority of my career years around visionaries, ideators and innovative leaders — big dreamers. Their vision drew me in and their passion energized me. As a non-dreamer, the way they could think up possibilities fascinated me. Yet, when the novelty dissipated, frustration set in. My strength was in putting a plan in motion, and often they weren’t ready for my questions and quandaries. I could only handle thinking at 30,000 feet for so long. Then I needed to put my feet to the ground and figure out strategy, implications and next steps.

Over the years, building relationships with them and finding different ways of engaging with each other, my appreciation for both types increased.

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Big Dreamers

  • love blue sky, conceptual thinking
  • are idealistic and imaginative
  • can be deeply sensitive if their ideas are knocked down before given a chance to breathe or imagined
  • once an idea sparks, their imagination keeps rolling
  • are empathetic and passionate, and can connect others emotionally to their vision in a profound way
  • get lost in their world of possibilities and wonder
  • colour outside the lines of life and don’t take social norms at face value but challenge them if they don’t mean something significant or make sense anymore
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Non-Dreamers

  • consider themselves realists
  • recognize what is possible in a particular situation, accept it for what it is and are prepared to deal with it accordingly
  • focus on managing the day to day tasks and what’s in their control — and often that’s all they have time and energy for
  • pay attention to what’s happening around them, and tend to adapt to social norms easily
  • naturally see all sides to an issue from an objective stance
  • get overwhelmed by multiples ideas at once because often they instantly sort through the viability and details of each one
  • can get caught in a loop when decision-making because they aren’t easily swayed by bias or idealism that swing others in a certain direction
  • commit once they make a decision
  • are appreciated for dependability and implementation that help make grand ideas a success

Big dreamers might get frustrated that non-dreamers don’t easily engage or get instantly excited about their ideation. And non-dreamers often feel like a wet blanket on conversations. They wish big dreamers could understand how difficult it is to imagine life differently than the current reality. It takes a lot of energy for non-dreamers to imagine going on a dreamy vacation, living in a different home or if it’s not even feasible according to their current finances, time constraints and obligations.

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What big dreamers can do to connect with non-dreamers

What helped me as a non-dreamer is when big dreamers would preface or ground their big ideas with some context. Dreamers would launch excitedly in a conversation with something like, “Wouldn’t you love to live in this mansion?” or “Wouldn’t it be amazing to climb that mountain in Switzerland?”. When I’d hear that, my mind would feel floaty when I just wanted to tackle a mission. It was helpful to bridge it with a possibility similar to these examples:

  • Could you dream with me a minute? If we inherited a million dollars from a rich godfather we didn’t know about, what would you think of ______”
  • I know this isn’t possible right now, but humour me for a moment… I love the idea of _____. If it were ever possible, what would you like/not like about it?
  • I know you’re great a thinking ground level of 5,000 feet, but I’d love for you to track with me on some 30,000 feet ideas I’ve been thinking about for _____.
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How non-dreamers can connect with big dreamers

Our society, organizations, churches, technology wouldn’t be where it is today (for better and worse) without big dreamers. When non-dreamers find themselves caught in a barrage of imaginative ideas, feelings of overwhelm can prompt them to shut down or become resistant without even realizing it. Here are ways you can communicate with big-dreamers in a way that enhances your strengths rather than colliding.

  • Recognize how your mind and body react when you hear ideas you automatically want to dismiss as impractical, impossible or irrelevant
  • Prepare languages that tactfully articulate how you’re feeling and clarify the expectations of the big dreamer
  • Distinguish what kind of conversation the big dreamer wants to engage in. Is this blue sky session of collecting ideas? Is this an evaluation of ideas? Is this a time for brainstorming strategies, impact and resources needed? How/when do they want to discuss red flags?
  • Usually 30,000 ft level dreaming and vision casting need to be done at a different time than 10,000 ft level. Ground-level implementation needs to happen in a different conversation. It helps to determine which level you’re talking about.
  • If the ideas seem irrelevant or impractical to you, ask the big dreamer to share what the ideas mean to them. Uncover what excites them about the idea.
  • Big dreamers get energy from ideas and creativity, whereas non-dreamers often draw security from the predictable, day-to-day management of what they can control. When you see roadblocks in the plan, sharing these as opportunities to brainstorm innovative solutions.

Becoming more effective in your dreaming style

Do you have to resign yourself to all the pitfalls or find your identity in wins of your dreaming type?

Of course not!

Wise big dreamers mature as they tune into the best way to guard, nurture and share their ideas. They can develop skills that help them learn disciplines to following through on innovative plans and ask smart questions that lead to success. Non-dreamers mature as they find ways to value big ideas, stretch the realm of possibility and learn how to appreciate wonder. Each grows as they find insightful ways to appreciate each others’ perspectives and communicate their values and intent more effectively.

What observations and experiences have you had engaging with big dreamers and non-dreamers?

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