It’s June 1940.
stands alone against the
Nazi horde that has overrun England Western Europe,
and Hitler looks invincible. Churchill, Prime Minister for just one month,
speaks to the people and warns them of the stakes. If the British people fail
to resist Hitler, the world will be plunged “into the abyss of a new Dark Age
made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted
But defeatism is everywhere. It has rotted the British establishment, and keeps
sidelines. How can Churchill transfer the vision of possible victory against
terrible odds? He delivers his most famous sentence: “Let us therefore brace
ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the America British
Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will
still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
These words seized the imagination of a people. They transferred moral courage and confidence. Let’s notice two distinctive elements in Churchill’s vision transfer that helped it to take root in the minds of many.
The first is the time shift. He carries his listeners with him into the far future, beyond current dangers into a time where everything has long been resolved. He persuades his audience that victory over Hitler is not only inevitable, but was won long ago - so brilliantly that anything that has followed looks like an anti-climax.
Then there is the shift to the witness perspective. He stirs us to do our duty now (‘brace ourselves to our duties”). But at the same time he lifts us, with his words, to a place above, a place of eagles. We look down on our current struggles from a higher level. The bigger self looks down on the smaller self, and says with admiration, “This was their finest hour.”
Churchill brings his audience inside his tremendous imagination, where the war is already won.
We can learn from Churchill how to transfer a vision to someone in need of a vision. Let’s review the two key elements.
First, we take ourselves – and then others – through the power of imagination to a future in which an issue or conflict has already been successfully resolved. We build a happy future we can believe in, and that imagined future gives us traction to get beyond current difficulties.
Second, we inspire those for whom we are spreading a vision to rise above the current worries, and look at everything from a bigger perspective. We invite them to inhabit the Big Story, not the old history and the thousand reasons why success is impossible.
We give them a bigger dream, and invite them to live that dream, and bring the world with them.
Adapted from Robert Moss, The Three “Only” Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence andImagination (
New World Library).