Frontier Spirit

I spoke with my boss today about some debug issues that we’ve been dealing with at a customer. One issue has been dragging on for about two and a half months now, though I’ve been working on it for only a month. My boss gave me some good advice: some direction in terms of lines of investigation and people to enlist for help. But then she went on a frequent tangent.

“Be careful,” she said. “I can see that you’ve been working on it, but the project engineers at the customer have a habit of naming names. This issue has been open for two and a half months. The fact that it’s unresolved has already drawn the attention of one of their middle managers. If it drags on much longer, they could get impatient. If they get impatient, they might get frustrated. If they get frustrated, they could complain. If they complain, they might complain up to the our business unit. They might attach your name. And then, well your reputation, and then…”

I cut her off. “And then, we wouldn’t win their business, would we?”

“Not only that. Your job could be at stake.”

I considered this. A difficult engineering problem that I’ve been coordinating work on between the customer and our engineers leading to my job being at stake. And I shrugged. My boss gets on to this tangent nearly every time we speak about work.

I appreciated her concern for me, but I had this thought: “That’s not me.”

I have been fortunate never to have found myself in such situations on the job, but in my personal experiences and in the experiences of my friends, family, and co-workers, I find that it’s not unusual, even if one puts his best forth, to be misinterpreted or even to be cast out. When judgement time comes, there are those who try to play someone else’s game: they try argue and prove themselves, or they agree too easily with others’ estimation of them, and then there are those who walk away, to another department job, or other frontier. While grit is important, the latter don’t look like they ran away from their problems so much as outgrew them.

It is a characteristic of societies, be they on the level of a company or a nation, that the more developed they become, the more advancement becomes dependent not on ability, but on cunning political maneuvering. Rome and Enron are extreme examples. Such silliness can be avoided by heading for the frontier. There are difficulties in adapting to the frontier, but there are also difficulties trying to play someone else’s game. Haruki Murakami said it best: “We cannot avoid suffering, but we get to choose its form.”

This post is dedicated to my friends of frontier spirit, many of whom I met in Japan, and many of whom, in the search for their own blue ocean, have moved on to other places. I love you guys. I miss you. When we meet again, let’s swap stories and say to each other “That was a good ride.” 🙂

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