05 September 2008

change is what's comin'

Sometimes our external climate mirrors what winds blow within.

Yesterday morning we had our first cool front of the year. I awoke to find blue skies, a nice breeze, and temperatures hanging around 70 degrees -- a radical departure for the oppressive mildew-matic stuff we get in Houston from late April until... well, October, usually: temps in the mid 90s, humidity fluctuating damply between 50% and infinity, with a two MPH breeze straight up (I am often reminded of the line about Vietnam: "the wind doesn't blow -- it sucks."). 30% chance of mostly afternoon thunderstorms, some possibly severe, with the possibility of localized street flooding.

I love Texas and I actually like that oppressive summer weather in the same perverse way that Green Bay fans love the Antarctic conditions at Lambeau on a frozen January evening. It's a test, where the weather gods cull the righteous from the wimpious.

But heroic endurance can get a tad tiresome after months of just standing there, sweat spraying off you like a sprinkler, as your scalp crackles and cooks like bacon and your eyes slowly dry up into raisins rattling in your eye sockets and every breath feels as though you had to wrestle it through a barber's towel pulled fresh from the steamer basket. I mean, I can take it -- no problem no complaints -- but sometimes it's nice to be reminded that all things change, turn turn turn, etc.

My point -- and, per usual, I have one, though it's slow in coming and obscured to the point of invisibility -- is that regardless of how well you can adapt and endure, it's important to not become so blasé and jaded and detached from things that you lose all track of time, of the need to adapt and evolve and move forward.

Yes, this is analogy, kids. Or allegory. Perhaps metaphor with a light drizzle of allusion.

I was reading a great -- and I do mean fantastic -- piece in Harvard Business Review (hey-- I'm classy and shit!) where Ed Catmull, one of the co-founders of PiXAR Pictures, discusses "How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity". (Seriously-- go read it. Now. Take notes.)

One of the (numerous) brilliant strengths PiXAR boasts is a now-fully-ingrained institutional wariness of complacency -- the tendency to start feeling proud of how great and smart and wonderful you are and to then lower your guard against stupid mistakes and clumsy blindness to important advances, improvements, and changes:

"[W]hen continual change, or reinvention, is the norm in an organization and technology and art are together, magical things happen."

-- Ed Catmull, founder, PiXAR Pictures, in Harvard Business Review

Catmull is speaking about companies and organizations, but what's so brilliant about his essay is that the concepts and advice are every bit as sound and efficacious for use by individuals. Just as companies and organizations (and governments) can become prone to hubris and dangerous belief in their eternal infallibility, so can people. Me. You. Them.

I coach a lot of youth sports (and no that's not a non sequitor. One of the things I most love about coaching kids is their malleability, their openness to change and improvement. Sure, they often think they know how to do something, but they also are young enough to still be very attuned to the concept of education and change. You can still teach kids new things, and they still are largely ego-free in their willingness to accept these lessons and bits of advice and suggestion.

One of the hallmarks of "maturity" is that day when your brain starts to close off the gates to new ideas and starts to say "OK-- we've learned enough. Stop sending us new ideas. We don;t want or even need any more of them. We're perfectly content to sit here and run using the system and software we have in place."

Now, if you imagine someone sitting there using an Apple IIe computer, running software from floppy disks and looking at a monochrome monitor, you easily understand how this refusal to adapt any further can lead to real problems and even potential dangerous inability to function.

Yet most people seem incapable of looking at their own actions and attitudes and patterns of behavior with that same degree of objective detachment. They don't want to recognize that they've become complacent, or lazy, or that they have strayed badly from the course they intended to follow.

So lately I've been getting that itchy feeling in the pit of my soul. I've often described it as that restlessness that a wild goose must feel when that first cool breeze hits and some part of their brain starts signaling "time to think about heading south."

Time for change.

And not all change has to be Earth-shattering or so dramatic that anyone else even notices. Sometimes even tiny mid-course twitches to the helm are enough to affect a course change that makes a huge long term difference.

But you have to remain open and aware to the possible needfulness of such changes, major or minor. You have to stand willing to give your precious damned Ego a timeout and send it to its room for fifteen minutes so the adults can have A Serious Conversation. Sometimes we have to take stock of where we are, what we are doing, what we are pursuing, and honestly -- objectively, with cold-hearted ruthless detachment -- say "here's an area where we can do better."

It's been an interesting year for me. But nothing is "done" or "over" or even "achieved." Life is, as ever, what comes next, and I either keep chugging relentlessly towards constant improvement and progress, or I become a freezeframe in the ongoing movie of my own life. Work habits need a hard analysis and review. Dedication needs a review. Commitment needs to have its tank topped off. "What am I doing, and why? What is the goal, and what is the plan to achieve that goal? What am I doing which might be impeding me from achieving these goals? How can I do better -- BE better?"

Tough questions, mostly because corrections require change, and change is scary and takes work, and as a general class of beings, humans are lazy, cowardly, and self-deluding.

Change. Either you embrace it, pursue it, long for it and demand it and chase it down with voracious tenacity, or you stand at very real risk of becoming a sad and static cliché, incapable of adapting to the world as it exists around you and slowly moves forward without you.

Onwards, my pretties.
self-improvement via self-loathing B


marcoguarda said...

Thanks for the insight/encouragement.


DDog said...

Great post, and thanks for the essay link.

Stephen said...

enjoyed the article (how'd ya find it?) -- makes me wanna send Pixar a job application.

Unknown said...

Hmm, you have just summed up what I am CONSTANTLY trying to tell people around me, especially when they ask me how I handle radical change with such ease (like moving from Philly to Texas!) Jenifer's introduction for me into yoga and some Eastern concepts of spirituality have also aided in that. I love change, and I get very restless.