The Problem with Storms is that We Need Them

Walter Isaacson on Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes:

“Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban Short Hills, N.J., on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon?” Percy wrote in one of his essays. “Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?” Part of the answer is that when a hurricane is about to hit, we no longer feel uncertain about our role in the world. Everyone is focused, connected, engaged. We know what we’re supposed to do, and we do it.

Things are different when something is at stake: You stop the petty fighting, you get rid of distractions, and you begin to do what’s right.

How do we know what’s right, though? I’m currently reading Gerd Gigerenzer’s take on risk and intuition, and I wonder whether a hurricane situation allows us to act more intuitively. Needless to say that hurricanes can be all kinds of things: In any dramatic situation, we either unconsciously bypass our rational routines or we allow ourselves to ignore them – opening a pathyway for our intuition to take over. Maybe this isn’t a complete picture of the magic that’s happening, but I would guess it’s a part of it.

“The problem with storms is that they pass”, says Isaacson. He’s right, but it’s worse: The problem with storms is that – despite all their downsides – they need to occur in the first place. Because if they don’t, we simply get stuck in what Percy calls “the malaise”.1

One of my big questions since starting this blog: How can we act better without suffering from the hurricane in the first place?

  1. See also, likeley related: Bad Faith. The New Escapologist once dedicated a whole issue to the matter! []

Work as Procrastination

We can define all kinds of things as procrastination: Surfing the web, walking the dog, doing the dishes. How about work?

Seldom do we see work as procrastination. But isn’t work often a form of procrastination, preventing us from doing what we actually should be doing?

A few things come to mind, in escalating order:

  1. Getting to inbox zero instead of working on project X.
  2. Working on project X instead of working on the much more important project Y.
  3. Working on project Y instead of solving a long-standing conflict with a co-worker.
  4. Solving that conflict instead of taking over the groundbreaking project Z in the other department.
  5. Taking over project Z instead of quitting your job and living the life you secretly wished for during the last 20 years.

[¶]

(See also: Procrastinate on Tasks, Not on Your Life. The post image shows my friend Lourenço, who gets this stuff just right.)

George Saunders:

Last Thursday, my organization, People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction, orchestrated an overwhelming show of force around the globe.

At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one.

Quite brilliant. I’m a member. Read the whole thing.

Balls Bias

During a walk in the swamps on the island, I had to think of a few friends and acquaintances and how they are moving ahead (or not) in their careers and businesses. While I believe they are quite similar in smarts, energy and resources, some of them seem to get ahead much easier. Listening to the sound of the reeds swayed by the wind, I figured this had something to do with courage. Boldness. Balls. Balls to show who they are and express what they care about.

Two thoughts on, well, balls and the balls bias we live in.1

1. If you’re not ballsy, it’s a tiny tragedy. It means that people will easily overlook you – despite your potential, your abilities, your ideas and your true self. Because no matter how smart you are, if you don’t dare to stand up and contribute what you’ve got, chances are that the world won’t come to ask for it.

I know that sucks. I agree that it might be better if things were different. I still believe it’s true and worth to reflect upon: What is it that you would like to improve in your job, your community, your neighborhood, but haven’t dared to stand up for? What difference would it make if you just trusted yourself for a moment and went ahead?

Chris Guillebeau once wrote that at some point in his life he felt the urge to “jump on stage” and make his contribution. No matter what that contribution might be, if you haven’t jumped yet, when will you do it?

2. Derek Sivers’ 2c post is smart.2 I agree that a boss should not add their two cents to every single idea of their employees, but rather let them move ahead autonomously. As every smart idea, it comes with a flipside: If you’re an employee, grow some balls.

While there are more than a few control-freak managers in the world, chances are that yours isn’t as bad as you think. Instead of endlessly asking for permission, authorization and green lights, why not behave proactively? Try this: Be more courageous in your work. Surprise your boss by moving ahead, even when he’s still stuck in his email inbox. If you do the right stuff, people will notice. It might not give you a raise or a promotion, but in all likelihood it will increase your options.

  1. Not just in a biological way. []
  2. As always. []