What is — is a reference to describing what is existing or around you. What can be is more visionary, ignoring in part “what is” in order to see how things could be different or better.
Surprisingly, I find it is much easier to tell whether someone has the skill to be able to share “what can be” in a given situation than those that can only focus on “what is”. The skill of being visionary involves having an intense curiosity and wide knowledge/experience base that gives the person the edge in seeing things that don’t exist today. They may not have the vision cobbled together at the start but they do have the intuition to know that there is a better way than what they find in front of them.
The challenge that a “what can be” skilled person has is to not over-reach or over-exaggerate. Promising to make a million dollars in 6 months if this and that changes isn’t very likely nor sound. A highly skilled “what can be” person will provide options that are both reasonable and doable given the constraints of your situation. Their advice may actually come across as boring.
Focusing on “what is” is extremely difficult, in spite of the fact that I find it much more common for people to have some level of skill in this area. The difficulty arises in the accuracy of people’s assesment of “what is”. All of us are biased in some way when looking at something. Many times we lack enough information to make an accurate assessment of “what is”. Other times, we tell ourselves a story about what we see that defends our assessment but lacks confirmation that our point of view is accurate.
There are many shades of gray with respect to those that focus primarily on “what is”. The key to accuracy is to actively listen to many different points of view prior to formulating your own. I find most people to be lazy thinkers and find many times that their description of “what is” is rather inaccurate. Their inaccuracy leads to poorer solutions that are doomed to not work from the start.
The “what can be” person has a greater chance at an accurate assesment of “what is” because they have seen more. Their intuition has been sharpened through experiences both good and bad.
The “what is” person is limited to what they know. The less realistic their assessments are of a situation, the smaller their world. They have no skill nor understanding of “what can be”. You can improve your skill by listening and conferring with people who have a much wider experience/knowledge base.
Once you understand these two skill types, you begin to see the difficulty of working with other people. How many times have we suggested things to friends or coworkers that we know will help them but our words go for naught? It’s a classic case of the “what can be” person talking to the “what is” focused person. They simply don’t have the skill to understand or consider “what can be”.
Or how frustrated are we when a coworker or colleague is asked to fix something but they don’t accomplish it? We are asking a “what is” person to deliver a “what can be” solution that they are incapable of doing because they don’t have the skill. The best that you can expect from a “what is” person is their attention to detail about the current setup. They are probably not the best person to carry out the “what can be” part of the project.
Depending on the topic or situation we may fall into either bucket. Sometimes we are the “what is” person because it is out of our area of expertise. Other times we might be the “what can be” person because we have the experience or broad knowledge. Overall, I find that people have a greater tendency to be one or the other.
Where the leverage or effectiveness can come in to your life is understanding what type of person you are talking to when it comes to solving problems or issues. And seeking out the right person that has the skill of “what can be” when you believe that things need to change.