Before the holidays, I was at dinner with execs from a university we are working with. A few bottles of wine in, we were freely talking about the trials and tribulations of our professions. I asked how they deal with their demanding constituents.
Law School, rolling his eyes: They are constantly asking what is the precedent and they want to discuss at length all sides of the topic as if they were litigating!
Med School, thoughtfully: The psychiatrists are constantly worrying about how everyone feels about the topic on-hand which makes a decision take even longer.
Library, smiling wryly : When I ask a question, they respond with "In 1842..." and drag me through hundred years of institutional history when all I want to know is should I park out front.
When confronted with a hell-raiser they quickly learned to ask: What did my predecessor do? Nothing. What did her predecessor do. Nothing. Well, then sir, nothing from me too.
By the time dessert arrived, we were introspecting on the deeper impacts of these interactions.
As consultants, we are hired to solve intractable problems, to see through the fog. We can’t do nothing and we have to deal with the resistance to being outsiders brought in to affect change. The insiders seem to have a wider berth, yet they have to meld their can-do with organizational culture even more than we have to. We both juggle how much we can change the world, and more importantly how quickly we should do so because change has a tendency of breaking the agent. On the other hand, not questioning the status quo is less than optimal.
All of us at dinner agreed that being older has made us more thoughtful about the balance.
This is very different from when I was 17. Then, I thought my purpose in life was to shake it up, rip it apart. Now I am older and _______? Fill in the blank with wiser, mellow, practical, cynical, skittish.
As I walked back to the hotel after dinner, I wondered if being older is making me less effective. I fast forwarded ten years and heard Jeff Bridges delivering an apropos message in his inimitable style. At least, I haven't arrived at "slower" and "dumber". Thank goodness...for now!