Daily Archives: March 17, 2010

From the Swamp of Inertia to the Road to Success

Writing about the Swamp of Inertia this morning made me think of one of my most favorite websites. Strange Maps, and a posting from it last year of a 100-year old or so map of the Road to SuccessThis map deserves careful study. Judging from the outfits individuals are wearing it must come from early in the 20th century. I think it is very sweet that near the pinnacle individuals must pass through the Gate of Ideals. And I just love it that early on people can be waylaid by entering what appears to be the garden of Bohemianism. I have to say I think I would have ended up there myself. Click here to get to the original posting on Strange Maps. Warning: you can get lost in this website for hours and it doesn’t have a map of the way out.

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The Swamp of Inertia

This retired life takes a little getting used to, in a good way of course. One important missing factor is the structure you get from work life. You know when you’re supposed to awaken, when to brush your teeth, when to get dressed. When we work a normal 40-hour week, we have these instances scheduled down to the minute because, in the DC area and I imagine most metropolitan areas, it matters dearly in terms of traffic whether you leave the house at 736 am or 747 am.

So I’m using my blog to put a little bit of structure around my mornings. I have an unmanageably long list of blogs and other websites that I would like to check on a regular basis, and every morning I start down that list until I’m waylaid by wanting to share something interesting I’ve read. Both today and yesterday the ambush occurred at Blog Stop #1.

Thinking back on most of the change initiatives with which I’ve been involved, they’re not blocked by some counteroffensive or a better idea. Instead, they usually just sludge to a dead stop in the Swamp of Inertia. In fact, I don’t know anything that bureaucracies are better at than producing swamps of inertia. They’re everywhere. Arlene Goldbard, who writes on culture, politics, and spirituality, describes in her most recent posting the psychological conditions prevalent in these swamps:

…the fear of alignment with a lost cause, of failing or looking foolish; the irrational conviction that we know the future and it’s against us; anger and resentment at indifference to injustice; all of that baked into a pièce de résistance that keeps us from trying—thus fulfilling the proposition that trying isn’t worth the effort.

So what techniques can you use to cross the swamp? One is to detach your ego from the success of your project. This is hard but remember it is usually personal disappointment, anger, and frustration that lead the change advocates to commit professional suicide and/or abandon their ideas–which, intended or not, is the objective of the swamp creatures, uh, I mean creators. Another is to stay as close as you can to the high ground as you maneuver the swamp. One high ground technique is not to advertise your project as a change initiative. I always resisted the idea of giving a project a high-falutin’ name, like Horizons or Tempest or Earthquake. It always struck me this was 1. an ego-trip; 2. an unnecessary bid for attention; and 3. a surefire way of making it easy for people to remember you if the project failed. And a final way to battle the swamp of inertia is persistence. As the great leadership film Galaxy Quest declares: “Never give up!! Never Surrender.”

I know I’ve given the discussion of crossing the swamp short shrift, but, really, I need to go brush my teeth.

(Originally I thought of calling this post the Inertia Swamp. (I know, only someone who spent almost 25 years editing others’ work would fret about the difference.) But I settled on the Swamp of Inertia because it had a better rhythm. This reminded me of the names real estate developers give to their fancy suburbs which, if they want to affect a particularly high tone, always involve a preposition. So in San Antonia, for example, you don’t see Stone Oak Hills, you see the Hills of Stone Oak. The Highlands of Stone Oak.  Or one of my favorites in northern Virgina, L’ambiance of McLean. Obvious bonus points there for using French. But I digress…)