Friday, November 25, 2016

My Way - Three Stories

“I did it my way” says the song.  It's a song about individualism, and the protagonist believes the way he's singing about is his own, an inherent and absolute property of himself.  But to ascribe the way in the song to the individual is to fall under an illusion, a trick of the mind's eye that accentuates the contrast of what is relative and mutes the absolute.  The protagonist's perception of his own way is dependent on the norms of his context and how they differ from his way.

If there were no prevailing ways to serve as a backdrop, there would be no "my way" to sing about, and unless the "its" that "I did" were common enough things for people to do, there could be no prevailing ways to do them.

My point here is not to deconstruct a song (if instead of "I did it my way" the lyrics said "I did it a slightly peculiar way that seemed special, but only in contrast to the way other people were doing the same thing," even Frank Sinatra would have had a hard time selling it) but to remind myself of the derivative, contingent quality of my own ideas and opinions about how to do things, and to introduce a personal story that begins with an insightful question once mused by a giant:
Which way is my way?

Good question, Fezzik.  The personal story I referred to is actually three simultaneous stories - a small one, a medium one, and a large one.  The small one is a sketch of what I call the regenerative business philosophy I'm developing at Sage Garden Ecovillas.  The medium one is my method for answering Fezzik's question.  And the large one is about creation and the creative impulse.  It starts like this.

Once upon a time (well, more than once, and all the time) the world of ways to do things is formless and void.  And we say, "Let there be doing.  Let us do."  And then the world is no longer void; it is occupied by doing.  But it's still formless.  And sometimes the story ends there.  But other times we gain skill, we learn HOW to do, and we separate right ways from wrong ways.  And sometimes the story ends there.  But other times, when we've seen the right ways and that they're good, we ask, "But which way is my way?"

When I moved into Sage Garden Ecovillas (here's the medium story), all I saw at first was the "right way" to do business, but as I continue doing, I see hints of ideas flaking away from the whole of business as usual.  So I pull on those ideas to see what else comes with them, and that's how I find my way.  Say the idea is a belief; it may bring with it some values, priorities, or practices.  Or a practice might come with some attitudes, values, or other practices.

One of the first flakes I saw was the idea of valuing the well-being of people over the well-being of the organization.  It's tempting to think that if an organization (such as a business) thrives, so do its members.  This is not always true, and standard business practices nurture the business at the expense of the people.  Another flake I saw early on was the idea of working cooperatively and not competitively with other businesses, clients, suppliers, and everyone.  So I pulled on those flakes.

It's tempting at this point to criticize the standard way, but the standard way is perfectly valid.  It's self-consistent.  It yields long-lived organizations.  It's a step in the right direction from no way.  It's just not my way.

So I pulled on those two ideas, and some others started to peel away with them.  One was the idea of inclusivity.  The standard way is for organizations (such as businesses) to have discrete rosters and a clear division between members and nonmembers.  That's fine, but the way I would prefer is to have a fuzzy boundary, where the level of participation can vary.  Another idea was valuing the well-being of all, not just of the decision makers (or oneself, in the degenerate case).  Yet another was to give more emphasis to motives and less to methods, or to subjugate the how to the why.  In this case, it's easy to see the relative nature of "my way."  Both how and why are important.  What I observe in business as usual is a certain proportion of attention paid to tools and methods as compared to motives.  It's not that NO attention is paid to motives (every successful business has a charter or mission or vision statement, even if it's stale and lifeless).  And my way is not to ignore methods - it's just to devote a greater proportion of my attention to motives.
(To be continued - probably as long as I live)

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