Vision thinking and motivation for collective change

Author: Joy Love

Love, Joy, 2022 Vision thinking and motivation for collective change, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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The concept of vision, as projected by leaders, is associated with innovation and transformation in organisations, politics and throughout history. Yet little is known about what happens at the individual and group member level, when people (followers) develop their visions. I specify this development of visions as vision thinking; it is positive prospection about the future of one’s group, or a collective or entity one identifies with. Vision thinking is worthy of attention due to its potential to inspire individuals to act for change as a collective. But does engagement in vision thinking motivate people toward collective action, and if so, how?

In this thesis, my original contribution to knowledge is the operationalisation of the concept of vision thinking; development and confirmation of a model that explains how vision thinking is associated with motivation for collective action; identification of mechanisms in vision thinking that promote motivation via efficacy and social identity; and detection of psychological and social influence factors that affect engagement in vision thinking. These understandings, with further development for practical application, will facilitate leaders to direct the motivation of their followers towards collective change, within organisations and society.

Findings are from six experimental studies (including face-to-face, online, individual thinking, and group member interaction studies) and one correlational study within a state government department. The research shows that vision thinking can be characterised and operationalised as thinking comprising the formation of mental representations, creativity, positiveness, and unrestraint. The studies support a vision thinking collective action model where vision thinking is positively associated with motivation for collective action via the collective action predictors: social identity, efficacy, anger, and (with less evidence) hope.

Two key mechanisms for promoting collective action motivation were identified. First, vision thinking can make what is initially perceived as impossible seem more possible, which in turn is associated with efficacy and motivation for collective action. The collective nature of vision thinking appears to underpin the mechanisms that raise perceived possibility and efficacy. This increased perception of possibility and heightened efficacy, and associated greater motivation, is also sustained during possibility assessments after vision thinking (e.g., during planning). Second, findings support that the unique characteristics of vision thinking contribute to the formation of a social identity over and above established mechanisms for identity formation (including group interaction factors). Social identity, in turn, is associated with greater motivation for collective action.

While vision thinking can be induced, the thinker’s capacity to engage in vision thinking is affected by their personal context. Creativity, interest in what is to be envisioned, and unexpectedly, system justifying tendencies, facilitate engagement. A clash with beliefs and threat regarding what is to be envisioned, hinder engagement. Vision thinking instruction that is more prescriptive of the outcomes to be imagined, can help engagement, particularly when clash with beliefs and threat is experienced by the thinker. There are indications that the nature of vision thinking—especially the unrestrained aspect—helps the thinker engage in vision thinking.

The research presented in this thesis contributes to the collective action, collective prospection, and leadership research. Ultimately, a better understanding of vision thinking enables leaders to tap into the vision thinking processes of follows, to target their own vision so that followers can take the vision on board—engage with it in their own minds—and be moved by it.

Keywords: vision thinking, collective action, collective change, future thinking

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Michael Wenzel