Making Poetry and Politics

Right around the end of each school year I piece together a reading list for the summer, then I go to my school and public libraries and start clearing the shelves. COVID forced me to amass a summer reading list out of the books on my shelf at home. As a result, I managed to read several books that I have owned for months or decades. Some were better left on the shelf, but some have been a delight.

Even though schools and libraries are now open, I’m continuing the trend and recently picked up “The Buried Mirror” by Carlos Fuentes. Part history book, part Latin American polemic, I first read the book in its native Spanish (“El espejo enterrado”) in 1998. Some time later I bought the English version, put it on a shelf, and never looked at it again. Until now.

Fuentes opens the book with reflections on the relationship between Spain and the New World. Above all else, he characterizes the relationship as “a debate with ourselves.” In the process he evokes a W.B. Yeats quote:

And if out of our arguments with others we make politics, advised W.B. Yeats, out of our arguments with ourselves we make poetry.

Fuentes, p. 15

The original Yeats quotes is as follows:

We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.

Let’s not let slip the opportunity to quarrel with ourselves. Let’s, in every occasion possible, make poetry.

Election

My favorite tweet from the last few days:

We’ve turned the page on “Tuesday, Part 5,” and Joe Biden was officially projected to be the 46th President of the United States on Saturday, November 7. All the news networks showed footage of Biden/Harris supporters spilling into the streets. Jubilation and affirmation from the side that won, silence and disbelief from the side that lost. It has always been thus.

One thing that is distinctly different in the current scenario is how the Market reacted. In the days leading up to the election you can expect fits and starts. We mostly got starts with several +1% days for the S&P and or NASDAQ. Once Election Day came and went without a clear winner, we could have all expected the Market’s reaction: selling.

The Market abhors uncertainty. The Market more often than not reacts to an unwelcome situation more favorably than an uncertain one. So, the fact that the Market remained positive during the week of the post-election ballot counting is truly incredible. It happens that Election Day overlapped with 3rd quarter earnings season, so in a fit of uncharacteristic rationality, the Market actually did what it is supposed to do–move in relation to market-specific inputs rather than exogenous events such as elections or Twitter feuds.

Change for change’s sake

Whether you’re a “tow-the-line” individual contributor, an mid-level manager, or a change agent in your organization, you’ve probably found that the best way to curry favor with others in your organization is to bark about the perils of “change for change’s sake.” Your belief in the default status of the status quo gives you the air of an efficiency-minded pragmatist and as one that seeks to minimize inconvenience and discomfort for your colleagues.

But are you doing them, and yourself, any favors?

The phrase “change for change’s sake” presumes that the need for novelty is at the heart of unnecessary change. By that same logic, going out for a run without a destination is lunacy.

Just as jogging conditions our bodies (and as it turns out, our brains), adopting small change conditions us to acclimate to change when there’s no other alternative but to change. If you’re a jogger, you’re probably motivated by one of two factors:

  • long-term advantages: overall fitness, heart health, reduced likelihood of disease in your “golden years”
  • short-term advantages: ability to survive bear charges, muggers, and work-sponsored fun runs

By deliberately running without destination, joggers prepare themselves for the continuous, inevitable, long-term circumstances of age as well as the sudden, unforeseeable threats to the status quo.

Instead of decrying “change for change’s sake,” consider extolling “continuous preparedness for change.”

Your lungs, muscles, brains, and your institutions will thank you for it.

“Are we there yet?” : Dealing with Organizational Change

I remember countless times sitting in the back of my parents’ mid-70’s Audi Fox enduring the many discomforts of long-distance travel.

  • hot leather seats with no A/C – Dad’s solution to everything was “open the window.”
  • sitting on “the hump” – I was the youngest of three, so I took the cards I was dealt
  • The only person with knowledge about our destination had his hands on the steering wheel. And odds are, he was fuming.

The first two are probably vestiges of a by-gone era, but the third item on this list is something most of us feeling when our employer is embroiled in long-term change.

Your organization may not be fuming, but their attention is somewhere other than, “How can I communicate this change initiative to this guy?” More likely, they are considering the appeal to all constituencies, knowing that they won’t please everybody, they are calculating the likelihood of success or what partial success might look like (and how to spin partial success as overwhelming success), and how this change might affect the culture of the organization as a whole.

They are not considering your personal opinion.

“But wait, I’m a trusted thought leader in my…”

Stop, they are not considering your personal opinion.

“Yeah, but I’m a veteran of this organization with 43 years of…”

Eh-eh-eh. Stop. They are not considering your personal opinion.

“Ok, hot shot. I’ve got my whole department under my thumb. So if they don’t listen to me I’m gonna…”

No, no, no. Sorry. They are not considering your personal opinion.

Nor should they.

For the life of me, I cannot remember who offered up this idea, but it came from a conversation about organizational change, and I’m going to botch the quote, but here goes:

An organization is a not a collection of individuals. It is a third thing, a combination of the self, of individuals, which creates a third entity out of the emergence of the same. It is one plus one equaling three. And that’s why organizations are so complex.