Zen is you – Be.

Anesthetized by Pleasantness

Posted in development, satisfaction, values by dave225 on October 9, 2009

It’s difficult to write a blog post about complacency.  Because to understand complacency, you have to put yourself into that mode of thinking.  And who the hell wants to be there?

(guess the relevance)

But complacency is such a paradox to me anyway – if you live in chaos, you are motivated to find normalcy.  If you find normalcy, it’s sooo easy to want to stay there – but you need to create chaos to escape.

(guess the relevance) –>

This is something I have to remind myself of frequently.  Professionally – implementing processes and measurements to get us to a state of optimization – there is a peace of mind in knowing that you can leave the office for a few days and the cogs will continue to turn.  But that allows me to disengage, which is both a blessing and a curse.  A curse because  I don’t get the daily fuel from innovation and problem solving.  A blessing because we’re doing greater things, more efficiently.   (Look at Thomas Edison.  His life’s work was inventing technology to make our lives easier.  That’s a reward unto itself, but in employing those inventions we achieve even more greatness with less effort. It wouldn’t make sense to reinvent the same things just for the sake of creating innovation energy.)

So how do you keep moving? One way is to scrap it all and start over.  Do what you did to get where you are, but do it someplace else.  You made your fortune perfecting the electric nose blower; now figure out how to harness energy from mosquitoes.

But maybe there’s another plateau to be reached that’s still out of sight.  Innovation and problem solving are great for the soul, great for business.  But only if they are addressing real problems.  As I write this, thinking about where I go from here (not that my work is finished or that I’ve perfected anything yet), it occurs to me that this quandry is a metaphor for my career.  I have always grown and succeeded by finding a need and filling it, as a logical extension of my official role.

So I guess my answer is in there.  Cycles of innovation & motivation ebb and flow, but if we’re looking for opportunities, we can organically keep growing, keep moving without drastic actions.

.. Which brings me around to Jim Collins’  How the Mighty Fall.  Collins makes the point, in a much more subtle way, that slow and steady wins the race.  Collins cites five stages of an organization’s decline:

  1. Hubris born of success
  2. Undisciplined pursuit of more
  3. Denial and risk of peril
  4. Grasping for salvation
  5. Capitulation to irrelevance

So, in terms of personal growth and motivation, the corresponding stages of marginalization and desperation:

  1. Not following a path of continuous learning and improvement
  2. Innovation for innovation’s sake, without adding value, without fitting a larger context
  3. Devaluing collaboration, succumbing to disengagement.
  4. Hasty decisions, get rich (or made)  quick ideas.
  5. Retirement, new career, etc.

Another personal point to grow on that Collins mentions – Individuals, like organizations need to examine why they are successful (defined as you like) rather than how they became successful.  Focus not on what things you’ve done to be successful (your deeds), but what about YOU has meant success (your character.)

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3 Responses

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  1. Andy Havens said, on October 9, 2009 at 2:37 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head in that last sentence; complacency is more about character than particular activities.

    My father was very fond of saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” On the other hand, he also loved, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.”

    We can be satisfied with certain things (activities, jobs, relationships, places), I think, without becoming complacent. If we are too long satisfied with ourselves, that becomes (in my mind) a character flaw.

    Where it gets tricky is when we measure changes in ourselves in terms of changes to our things. If we believe that money, status, kudos, etc. are a measure of our success, then we will always be changing (replacing) things in an attempt to improve. If our success is based on who we are and why we are… then, perhaps, we can be complacent about certain aspects of our “stuff” and still continue to grow.

  2. Dave said, on October 9, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Right on, Andy. Right on.

    A brief discussion of this last night got me thinking of an easier way I might have said the same thing…

    We get energy from the process of going from A–>B. Obviously, staying at point B is being complacent. But going back to A in order to find that energy again is also complacent. There is a point C -somewhere. So it may feel like we’re doing less as we hover around point B, looking for point C. But continuing to go from A–>B is missing an entirely higher level of growth. Whether A–>B is creating startup companies or refocusing mature companies, point C (and D, E, F….) is a place you can’t see from point A. You invented the electric nose blower? Now cure the common cold.

  3. Andy Havens said, on October 10, 2009 at 1:12 am

    That is a very interesting line: “Point C is a place you can’t see from Point A.”

    I will steal that.

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