Is reality still real?

The house in the picture was beautiful.  And its setting on the waterfront was spectacular.  When I saw this photograph about twenty years ago my first reaction was one of wonder at this incredible place.

Then I read that this house only existed in the photograph and in the computer that generated it.  This was in an article in Computerworld magazine.  In the years before I had watched as computer generated pictures became more and more realistic.  And now for the first time I was looking at a picture that I couldn’t tell wasn’t real.  So my second reaction was to marvel at how far technology had come.

But as I began to contemplate the implications of this, my third reaction was great concern, almost fear.  How would we now be able to tell what was real and what wasn’t? Would there need to be some official designation or even legislation to help distinguish pictures that weren’t real?

Then my fourth reaction came as an epiphany.  It suddenly dawned on me that the question of reality was largely irrelevant.  The issue wasn’t how to recognize reality.  The issue was that reality was being totally redefined.  The criteria of reality to people in future generations would not simply be whether something existed in the physical world.  What the new definition would come to be I did not know, but I did know it was going to change.

Twenty years later this is still playing out.  And it has great bearing on leadership.  It’s easy to make assumptions about basic concepts, like reality.  But what is unreal to me may be very real to someone else.  This has great impact on matters such as trust, communication, relationship.  These are pillars of leadership.  And as leaders we need to keep a very open mind to the shifting realm of reality around us.  We can’t shy away from it, though, because the need for leadership is as real as it has ever been.