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Dragon Dreaming – a talk with John Croft

Last week, I had an opportunity to meet John Croft, a co-founder of Dragon Dreaming.

Dragon Dreaming is a project management system that offers methods for the realization of creative, collaborative and sustainable projects and organizations, built upon three principles:

  • personal growth – commitment to your own healing and empowerment
  • community building – strengthening the communities of which you are a part
  • service to the Earth – enhancing the well-being and flourishing of all life

The Dragon Dreaming process consists of four steps:

Four stages of Dragon Dreaming

During the press conference/interview I was able to ask John Croft a few questions and below is the transcript of his answers to a couple of them:


Me: What is the essence of Dragon Dreaming? I know that it has four phases. How does it compare with other systems?

John Croft: Most of the systems of project management that you read [about], they start with building a vision for the future of the project – they start by building a vision, a mission, and then goals, and then objectives, and then a strategy, and then activities, and then tactics, and then evaluation. Those sorts of management theories tend to be very linear and incredibly left brain. What we found, with Dragon Dreaming, is that they only deal with half of the person. They deal with the planning and the doing stages of projects, but when you look at the origin of projects – all projects start in a dream.

It’s a dream that begins the motivation. And conventional management theories don’t talk about dreaming. Hardly at all. They don’t recognize the contradictory… The nature of dreaming is not a linear, logical, rational process. It is completely nonlinear, non-rational, non-logical. But, it’s a source of creativity, it’s a source of innovation, it’s a source of change, that it all comes out of a dream.

And then they think that once they’ve created the project and the project is done, that’s the finish. And they forget that 25% of every project needs to be celebration. By ignoring celebration, the projects – the conventional projects you see: they’re projects of control, they’re projects of bureaucracies trying to force people into doing things that the people don’t want to do.

We need to build celebration into every stage of the process, and if there is one thing that Dragon Dreaming does, it attaches a new importance to the process of celebration. And so, what we find is that as we get in touch with celebration, with dreaming, we’re not just working with the left hemisphere of our brain, we are working with our whole brain. We’re working with the whole of a person, and the more we can liberate the wholeness that is in source of all of us, the more we can liberate the dreams, and the ceremonies, and the celebrations and the stories that are associated with who you are as a person, the more you liberate the creativity that lies at the heart of every individual. And given the problems that we’re facing in the world today – in terms of financial crisis, in terms of climate change, in terms of global warming, in terms of peak oil, in terms of the extinction of species – we need to liberate the creativity on a scale that has never before been attempted on the planet. Only by liberating the creativity that lies at the heart of every single person – man, woman and child – will we be able to generate sufficient enthusiasm and joy and playfulness that we need to create a sort of future that works for everyone on the planet. And by “everyone”, I’m not just talking about human beings, I’m talking about more than human world that we’re embedding – the world of the living planet itself.

John Croft

John Croft during an interview in “KUD France Prešeren”, Ljubljana, Slovenia. (June 4th, 2014).


Me: What would be successful examples of dreaming and celebration?

John Croft: Wow. We say, every project ever done in the world starts as the dream of one person. One of the things I said this morning, I said him, is that 90% of projects get stuck in the dreaming stage. And the reason why is people don’t share their dreams. What happens is people learn that dreams don’t come true. Because in the conventional [inaudible] world dreams do not come true. And so, what happens is people lose their dreaming. And you can see it in people’s faces. If you look at the quiet desperation in people in peak hour traffic in the city – just look at their faces, you see people who’ve lost their dream. And they’re just existing from day to day. So, the first step to do, is to recover your dreaming.

And with celebration, is that it’s celebration where people come to see that they are recognized for their contribution, they are recognized for the changes that they have made. And they are deeply honored and deeply celebrated as a result. You may know the movie Avatar. There’s a scene in the movie Avatar when the Na’vi alien woman turns to the human avatar and she says: I see you. It’s the process of truly being seen, which is the source of unconditional love. When you are deeply seen for who you are, that’s the source of the unconditional loving, in action, on which Dragon Dreaming is based.


Following the interview, John Croft gave a public presentation about the basic principles of Dragon Dreaming. During his lecture he emphasized once again about the importance of celebration, the fourth stage in this system. He said that in order to avoid “burnout”, it is absolutely necessary that we refuel ourselves with celebration regularly. One of the key insights that Dragon Dreaming offers, is that “if it is not playful, it is not sustainable”.

If you want to lean more about Dragon Dreaming, go to

Theory of Change


Recently, I engaged in a short discussion in a comment section of a blog post titled “For effective sustainability results, focus on systems and processes, not targets or goals.” (link) written by Simon Wild.

Now I want to share a short summary of that article and the subsequent discussion, and that’s going to lead us to another article titled “Theory of Change” by Aaron Swartz.


So, in his post, Simon Wild actually expands on the ideas put forward by James Clear (link), who wrote that having goals is not enough to achieve success. In his own words:

“I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

What does Clear mean with “systems”? How are they different to goals? He explains:

“If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.”

Personally, I thought that this may be a cool play on words, but how deep of an insight is it? I was not entirely sold on this concept, so I wrote this comment on Simon Wild’s post:

“I think that goals are a helpful TOOL. But they are only helpful if we use them wisely. For example, if your major goal is to run a marathon, that will only be useful if you follow up with a lower level goals: to run 10 miles every other day, for example. James Clear calls that “Your system”, which is your training schedule for the month. Whatever. You can call it anything that rings true to you.

So, completely ignoring your goals and focusing only on your system actually means that you focus on the lowest level goals, on a moment by moment basis. For instance, if you are a professional basketball player, you don’t think about the game next week – instead, you stay focused on your practice that you are doing RIGHT NOW. You stay present. Your current goal is to practice free throws. So, you stay focused on shooting free throws.

If you do this, then your current happiness is not reduced.”

The last sentence above is referring to James Clear’s statement that goals reduce your current happiness. As I explained, that’s true only if you lose your presence and constantly ponder about the future. Simon Wild agreed with that, but then he continued:

“I guess what I was postulating was whether a long term goal in relation to sustainability, like zero carbon by 2030, is something that drives us to long term change? Or is creating systems of change that focus on the task that is needed today going to be more effective in the long run?”

This was my answer to him:

“As I see it, this is not an either-or option. Having a “zero carbon by 2030” goal is absolutely useless if we don’t follow up with lower level goals, or if you prefer James Clear’s terminology, with a system for realizing that goal. It’s always both: the goal, and the system.

System alone won’t be of much use either. “Creating systems of change that focus on the task that is needed today” may do some good, but will not go very far.

For example, the system that we set up may be some carbon tax law. If you are a car company and your cars produce more CO2 than a certain threshold, then your product gets additional tax. OK, great. The companies will either work to reduce CO2 footprint of their cars, or their cars will cost more, fewer people will buy them, and the effect will be similar.

But, if you don’t have a higher goal, then what do you do next? How do you convince people that this carbon tax is not the final destination, if you don’t even have a higher goal to point to? You would have to continually come up with newer and newer systems, and continually to gather support for their implementation. The real danger is, that you may stray off the path toward sustainability during that process.

You can’t hit a target that you don’t see. That’s why long term goals are important, too.

P.S.: Also read Aaron Swartz’s (R.I.P.) post titled “Theory of Change” on his blog”

I have since embraced the concept of “systems”, as I realized that they include not only your lower level goals, but the entire spectrum of things that you consciously do or set up in order to achieve your main goal. Your system as a runner is not only your training schedule for the month; part of your system is also your running buddy who trains with you and gives you additional motivation, or your portable music player that you use while running. Your system is not only your training schedule itself, but also the format in which you keep track of your training schedule (could be a calendar, a spreadsheet, a diary).

So, James Clear was onto something after all:

“Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.”

It’s always both: the goal, and the system.


Aaron Swartz. Photo: Fred Benenson/

Aaron Swartz. Photo: Fred Benenson/

Now we’re going to jump to the blog post written by Aaron Swartz, which I have already mentioned above. Its title is Theory of Change and it inspects two different ways in which you can tackle a problem.

The first way he calls a “theory of action”: you act forwards from where you are, in the direction of your goal. Swartz gives an example of a professional writer who thinks that the size of the U.S. defense budget should be decreased, so he does what he knows best: he writes a book on this subject.

The other strategy is a “theory of change”:

“A theory of change is the opposite of a theory of action — it works backwards from the goal, in concrete steps, to figure out what you can do to achieve it.”

So, if we want a decrease in the defense budget, we ask ourselves: how do we achieve that? The answer: a majority of the House of Representatives and of the Senate has to vote for it and then the President has to sign it.

Then we go one level lower; we ask ourselves: what motivates politicians to support something? What would motivate us, if we were politicians? Swartz gives us some suggestions:

“Well, on the one hand, there’s what you think is right. Then there’s what will help you get reelected. And finally there’s peer pressure and other sort of psychological motivations that get people to do things that don’t meet their own goals.”

Then we go another level lower and inspect all of these suggestions, one by one. We may come up with a strategy of how to persuade politicians that cutting the defense budget is the right thing for the country. Or we may organize a constituency in their districts that would demand cutting the defense budget.

I believe you now have an idea of where this is going: we continually go to lower and lower levels, until we reach something that we are capable to do without much trouble.

Then we do it. And since we’ve already devised the whole blueprint for change, the path toward our goal is straightforward (unless new obstacles arise).

If you are interested in more thoughts from Aaron Swartz on social change then also watch this video.