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Posts Tagged “Eugene O’Neill”

Famed engineer and Episcopalian priest William Pollard once said, “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”

Much as I hate it, I am deeply convicted of the entrepreneurial mandate for constant change. That is, change should be a value unto itself, not just a reaction to periodic business challenges.

As I see it, a good corporate culture is erected to ward off and control chaos and the impact of business randomness, while generating a consistent and predictable profit. The dialectic of stability and creativity should ideally result in a vital organization that is both dynamic and steady. But if one is to err, my preference and personal instinct is to err on the side of the dynamic, on the side of change and creativity.

As you may know from my past columns, I was an actor for many years. That has had a seminal, if ineffable, effect on my instincts as a small businessman. One of my favorite acting stories was recounted to me by character actor and teacher Paul Austin. I never tire of sharing it. Paul was doing a Eugene O’Neill play with the actor Rip Torn. Rehearsals were going well, but, with two weeks of rehearsal remaining. Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open. He was in a quandary about what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked his advice. Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Fuck it up.”

On the same theme, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, of Claremont Graduate University, recounts a story, in his book Flow, told him by Canadian ethnographer Richard Kool, describing one of the Indian tribes of British Columbia:

The Shuswap region was and is considered by the Indian people to be a rich place: rich in salmon and game, rich in below-ground food resources such as tubers and roots–a plentiful land. In this region, the people would live in permanent village sites and exploit the environs for needed resources. They had elaborate technologies for very effectively using the resources of the environment, and perceived their lives as being good and rich. Yet, the elders said, at times the world became too predictable and the challenge began to go out of life. Without challenge, life had no meaning.

So the elders, in their wisdom, would decide that the entire village should move, those moves occurring every 25 or 30 years. The entire population would move to a different part of the Shushwap land and there, they found challenge. There were new streams to figure out, new game trails to learn, new areas where the balsam root would be plentiful. Now life would regain its meaning and be worth living. Everyone would feel rejuvenated and healthy.

Essentially, the Shuswap Indians elected to “fuck it up” every few decades. It kept their business culture (if you will) healthy, thriving, and imbued with aliveness and meaning. They elected to culturally and institutionally discipline themselves to see existence through perennially fresh eyes.

The reason I embrace business is to be happy and whole. Profitability and personal wealth, if they come, are useful and satisfying in this, but profitability disengaged from meaning and spiritual growth is a dead thing. Change is an essential palliative to summon meaning, aliveness, and salvation into any business culture.

Friedrich Nietzche put it, “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”

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Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “When virtue has slept, it will arise again all the fresher.”  (Human, All Too Human -1879)

A couple of years ago I was drawn up short by a headline to a one paragraph story in the Harvard Business Review on-line.  The headline read, “Do Depraved Thoughts Make You More Creative?”  The answer, at least for Protestants like me, seems to be absolutely yes.  Depraved creature that I am, the headline certainly got my attention.

The headline refers to a study conducted by Emily Kim and her team at the University of Illinois.  Ms. Kim, et.al., discovered that subjects, particularly Protestants, produced more creative work when they were (a) induced to feel unacceptable desires and primed with words evoking so-called depravity, and (b) induced to feel out of the norm sexual desires.  It was the forbidden or suppressed nature of the emotion that gave the emotion its creative power.  (Sublimation, Culture, and Creativity.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  Oct 2013)

This column is putatively focused on what creates meaning, ethics, happiness, and practical business efficacy for entrepreneurs.  So where does depravity fit into this?

Well, just this.  If you seek to become a creative business innovator it’s good to shake things up periodically.  Just for the hell of it.  A jolt of the counterintuitive (perhaps another word for depravity), can summon the innovative, the fresh, the disruptive, the freeing, the new.

We all naturally gravitate towards playing it safe.  The real danger of playing it safe is subtle.  This danger doesn’t make headlines.  Yet excessive business caution is like a slow leak in a tire.  You become aware of it only when you realize that you’re stuck and wondering how the hell did it happen.

I’ve shared a story about this in the past, but it bears repeating here.  I was an actor for many years, a profession I ultimately failed at.  But it is a profession that lends itself to many good stories.   Here’s one.

A friend of mine, Paul, was playing the role of “Jamie Tyrone,” the older son in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Rip Torn.  Rehearsals had gone very well for my friend, but, with two weeks left in the rehearsal process, Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open.  His quandary was what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked him what he would do with this actor’s conundrum.  Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought it over for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Fuck it up.”

Exactly.  If it ain’t broke, break it.  That may sound depraved indeed, if not mentally unbalanced, but there is a sound business reason for disciplined and constant strategic change in any healthy enterprise.  Even to the point of seeming arbitrariness.  Sometimes a dollop of depravity may be just what the doctor ordered.  Great creative entrepreneurs may often need to walk gingerly on the border of what their colleagues, wives, and friends may consider the insane.

On the other hand, Carl Jung said, “Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.”

Thanks, Carl.

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friedrich-nietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche once said, “When virtue has slept, it will arise again all the fresher.”  (Human, All Too Human -1879)

Last month I was drawn up short by a headline to a one paragraph story in the Harvard Business Review on-line.  The headline read, “Do Depraved Thoughts Make You More Creative?”  (8:30 AM, 10/1/13)  The answer, at least for Protestants like me, seems to be absolutely yes.  Depraved creature that I am, the headline certainly got my attention.

The headline refers to a study conducted by Emily Kim and her team at the University of Illinois.  Ms. Kim, et.al., discovered that subjects, particularly Protestants, produced more creative work when they were (a) induced to feel unacceptable desires and primed with words evoking so-called depravity, and (b) induced to feel out of the norm sexual desires.  It was the forbidden or suppressed nature of the emotion that gave the emotion its creative power.  (Sublimation, Culture, and CreativityJournal of Personality and Social Psychology.  Oct 2013)

This blog is putatively focused on what creates meaning, ethics, happiness, and practical business efficacy for entrepreneurs.  So where does depravity fit into this?

rip-tornWell, just this.  If you seek to become a creative business innovator it’s good to shake things up periodically.  Just for the hell of it.  A jolt of the counterintuitive (perhaps another word for depravity), can summon the innovative, the fresh, the disruptive, the freeing, the new.

We all naturally gravitate towards playing it safe.  The real danger of playing it safe is subtle.  This danger doesn’t make headlines.  Yet excessive business caution is like a slow leak in a tire.  You become aware of it only when you realize that you’re stuck and wondering how the hell did it happen.

I’ve shared a story about this in the past, but it bears repeating here.  I was an actor for many years, a profession I ultimately failed at.  But it is a profession that lends itself to many good stories.   Here’s one.

A friend of mine, Paul, was playing the role of “Jamie Tyrone,” the older son in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Rip Torn.  Rehearsals had gone very well for my friend, but, with two weeks left in the rehearsal process, Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open.  His quandary was what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked him what he would do with this actor’s conundrum.  Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought it over for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Fuck it up.”

jungExactly.  If it ain’t broke, break it.  That may sound depraved indeed, if not mentally unbalanced, but there is a sound business reason for disciplined and constant strategic change in any healthy enterprise.  Even to the point of seeming arbitrariness.  Sometimes a dollop of depravity may be just what the doctor ordered.  Great creative entrepreneurs may often need to walk gingerly on the border of what their colleagues, wives, and friends may consider the insane.

On the other hand, Carl Jung said, “Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.”

Thanks, Carl.

Comments 6 Comments »

Much as I hate it, I am deeply convicted of the entrepreneurial mandate for constant change. That is, change should be a value unto itself, not just a reaction to periodic business challenges.

As I see it, a corporate culture is a defensive construct erected to ward off and control chaos and the impact of existential business randomness, while generating a consistent and predictable profit. The dialectic of stability and creativity should ideally result in a vital organization that is both dynamic and stable. But if one is to err, my preference and personal instinct is to err on the side of the dynamic, on the side of change and creativity.

As you may know from past blogs, I was an actor for many years. That has had a seminal, if ineffable, effect on my instincts as a small businessman. One of my favorite acting stories was recounted to me by character actor and teacher Paul Austin. I never tire of sharing it. Paul was doing a Eugene O’Neill play with the actor Rip Torn. Rehearsals were going well, but, with two weeks of rehearsal remaining. Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open. He was in a quandary about what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked his advice. Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Fuck it up.

On the same theme, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, of Claremont Graduate University, recounts a story told him by Canadian ethnographer Richard Kool, describing one of the Indian tribes of British Columbia.

(Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, p. 80, Harper & Row, 1990)

The Shuswap region was and is considered by the Indian people to be a rich place: rich in salmon and game, rich in below-ground food resources such as tubers and roots–a plentiful land. In this region, the people would live in permanent village sites and exploit the environs for needed resources. They had elaborate technologies for very effectively using the resources of the environment, and perceived their lives as being good and rich. Yet, the elders said, at times the world became too predictable and the challenge began to go out of life. Without challenge, life had no meaning.

So the elders, in their wisdom, would decide that the entire village should move, those moves occurring every 25 or 30 years. The entire population would move to a different part of the Shushwap land and there, they found challenge. There were new streams to figure out, new game trails to learn, new areas where the balsam root would be plentiful. Now life would regain its meaning and be worth living. Everyone would feel rejuvenated and healthy.

Essentially, the Shuswap Indians elected to “fuck it up” every few decades. It kept their business culture (if you will) healthy, thriving, and imbued with aliveness and meaning. They elected to culturally and institutionally discipline themselves to see existence through perennially fresh eyes.

The reason I am in business is to be happy and whole. Profitability and personal wealth, if they come, are useful and satisfying in this, but profitability disengaged from meaning and spiritual growth is a dead thing. Change is an essential palliative to summon meaning, aliveness, and salvation into any business culture.

Thank you, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi.

Comments 2 Comments »

I ended my last post saying how uncomfortable change was for me.  For that very reason, I discipline myself to incorporate change on a regular basis.  I experiment with suggestions offered by my associates.  It keeps my 16 year old firm fresh and alive.  For that reason Corporate Rain International changes substantially every year.

I try to keep nothing sacrosanct.  Though it gives me a daily frisson of fear, it also keeps me fiercely alive.  Clients feel that intensity and it helps me as a salesman for my company.

My favorite example of creative change is The Beatles.  The Beatles essentially became a radically different band every year of their existence.  Every year, they abandoned sure repeatable success to push into a high-risk musical unknown.  Their work had integrity.  It was alive.

There is a paradigm for business in the example of The Beatles.  Things constantly change; never more so than now.  Flexibility and an active imagination are particularly useful to a sales entrepreneur in a constantly evolving marketplace. Even arbitrary creative destruction can have its place.  One of my favorite bits of aphoristic wisdom (which I associate with AA and 12-step programs) is “Insanity is defined as continually performing the same action and expecting different results”.  Obviously and utterly true.

Earlier in my life, I spent about 10 years as an actor.  One of my teachers was a man named Paul Austen.  One day in class he recounted a story about doing a Eugene O’Neill play with the actor Rip Torn.  Rehearsals were going well, but, with two weeks of rehearsal remaining, Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open.  He was in a quandary about what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked his advice.  Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and said “Fuck it up”.

So, even if it ain’t broke, it’s sometimes healthy to “fuck it up”.

Comments 2 Comments »

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