To be actually trapped is to have no options, no choices, no possible outcomes other than the one you fear.
Most of the time, when we think we're trapped, we're actually unhappy with the short-term consequences of making a choice. Make the choice, own the outcome and you can start in a new place.
This is often frightening and painful, which is one reason it might be easier to pretend that we're actually trapped.
At the congregation down the street, they're doing things the way they've done them for the last few hundred years. Every week, people come, attracted by familiarity, by the family and friends around them, part of a tribe.
And just past that building is another one, a different tribe, where the tradition is more than a thousand years old.
This is not so different from that big company that used to be an internet startup, but all the original team members have long left the building. Work tomorrow has a lot in common with work yesterday, and the safety of it all is comforting.
Che, Jefferson, Edison, Ford... most of these radicals would not recognize the institutions that have been built over time.
The question each of us has to answer about the institution we care about is: Does this place exist to maintain and perpetuate the status quo, or am I here to do the work that the radical founder had in mind when we started?
First principles. The quest for growth, or for change, or for justice. The ability, perhaps the desire, to seek out things that feel risky.
All of us are part of organizations that were started by outliers, by radicals, by people who cared more about making a difference than fitting in.
You’ve probably met one. You might have a boss who is one, or customers who act that way. Someone doesn’t have to be in high school to act like a teenager. (Teenagers are supposed to act like that, it's their job. When adults act like this, though, it can get really ugly.)
The angry teenager believes that rage is always justified. He rejects the rational approach, replacing it with hot flashes of belief instead. Facts matter little when they can so easily be replaced by emotion. The angry teenager doesn’t want to talk through an issue, he just wants to yell about it. He doesn’t care so much about solving a problem as he does bathing in it, embracing it and wallowing in self-pity (loudly).
Show an angry teenager a way to grow and he’ll head the other direction, cursing you for rejecting his anger. Ask an angry teenager to rationally explain his proposed solution and he’ll hate you for wanting practical steps. Laugh at the unreasonableness of his demands and he’ll get angrier still, because being laughed at is his greatest fear.
It’s really easy to find an angry mob, really easy to embrace the momentary power that comes from harnessing the fear and disillusionment and angst of the disenfranchised. The challenge is that the mob is impatient and impractical and afraid. It's not a scalable way to get things done.
We all have to deal with angry teenagers now and then. It’s not fun or even productive, but if you’re smart and patient, you can outlast them. Picking a fight isn’t a practical solution, of course, because they’re better at fighting than you are.
Whatever you do, though, don’t let an angry teenager be in charge.
When Napster first hit the scene, people listened to as many different songs as they could. It was a feast of music discovery, fueled by access and curiosity.
Now, the typical Spotify user listens to music inside a smaller comfort zone.
When blogs were fresh and new, we subscribed to them by the hundreds, exploring, learning and seeking more. Over time, many people stopped following the outbound links.
When Twitter was new, just about anything seemed worthy of a retweet. Not so much for many people today. And podcasts are already starting to fill people up, making us feel like we don't have the time to listen to more.
We come up with all sorts of excuses about our fatigue, most of them have to do with the fact that there's nothing good on, nothing new happening, or we're just too busy. I don't think those hold water...
I think there are actually three reasons:
First, once you're busy with what you've got, it diminishes the desire to get more.
Second, discovery is exhausting. Putting on a new pair of glasses, seeing the world or hearing the world or understanding the world in a new way is a lot more work than merely cruising through a typical day.
And third, infinity is daunting. A birdwatcher might be inspired to keep seeking out new birds, because she knows she's almost got them all. But the infinity of choice that the connection economy brings with it is enough to push some people to artificially limit all that input.
I think it's way too early to announce to ourselves that we've read the internet and we're done.
Sometimes, the thing that's done to market something makes it worse.
And so, the corn at the local supermarket is already husked, because it looks better, sells better but tastes worse.
And stereo speakers are designed with extra bass, so they'll demo better, sell better but sound worse.
The market isn't always 'right', if right means that it knows how to get what it wants in the long run. Too often, we are confused, or misled, or part of a herd headed in the wrong direction.
It's almost impossible to bring the mass market to its senses, to insist that you know better. What you can do, though, is find discerning and alert individuals who will take the time to understand. And then, if you're good and patient and lucky, they'll tell the others.
Which is why, over the last thirty years, farmers markets and other entities have slowly grown in influence. Because happy customers tell stories about remarkable products and services.
When you see the corn paradox, label it and act accordingly. Tell stories for the few, help them to spread.
PS Shawn Coyne's book about editing your stories is just out. A keeper.
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