Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Acheivement and Acheivers

I had one of those "durrr" moments this weekend. Well, actually, I had a LOT of them, but I'd like to talk about one in particular.

It's one of those things that you suddenly realize, then go, "Well, duh, everyone knows that," then you start to THINK about it. I think most of the stupidity in the world is caused by not extrapolating what you know ACROSS TIME.

Here's the simple thing I realized: People who are doing well don't much care to change the world, save in controlled increments. They do pretty well by the world. People who AREN'T doing well WANT to shake the world and turn it upside-down, because the world is screwing them. An increment isn't a big enough change.

Well, duh, right? Everybody knows that. It's why nothing important ever changes - the people in charge shell out good money to STAY in charge, and the only changes are from their attempts to weasel into gaining more power.

Occasionally you'll get an outlier - Gandhi, for instance, or someone who feels the overwhelming urge to take over the world even though they already own a big chunk of it. But these are rare, and are probably just different angles on the same basic philosophy.

So, why don't people acknowledge this?

I mean, look at the obvious results when you apply this over a changing situation. A company is founded. It competes its hardest - it wants to shake up the industry, because that is really its only hope for success. Usually, it either dies or becomes successful.

After it becomes successful, it stops innovating, stops TRYING. Suddenly, all it has to do is 'well enough', and the only changes it looks for are small ones which consolidate or further its power.

This is UNIVERSAL. ALL companies follow this basic path. PEOPLE follow this path, too.

You'll find a lot of people who are not satisfied with the way things are going. They really want to change the world. Whether they want to become a world-renowned lawyer, or want to be the baddest gang leader in town, or want to convince the government to treat people better. It's all the same basic concept: they want to shake the world, to turn the world upside-down.

This is because they are on the bottom. (Or they have a lot of free time, which in many ways amounts to the same thing.)

What happens once they start to succeed? What happens when you find you've got supporters and a good chunk of change? You've suddenly got a good thing going. Your urge to change the world fades, because the world is treating you well.

In essence, the more people and money you throw at trying to change the world, the less chance that you will succeed.

This sounds really out there, doesn't it? Kind of counter-intuitive, almost assuming that humans are nothing but self-serving automitons. Well, that's not really true - but we are ADAPTIVE CREATURES. Once you're on top of the thing you were trying to change, you can no longer SEE the bottom.

I think this is why Gandhi did so well, why Martin Luthor King, Jr. did so well - these people lived among their folk, insisted on living AS their folk. Because of this, even when they were beloved, even when they had power, they were still immersed in the bottom tier. They couldn't adapt to their new situation fully, because their new situation was superimposed on their OLD situation.

But people with less socially immersize ideals - people who want to go into space, people who want to revolutionize data management, people who want to provide health care - they don't (or can't) stay immersed in their original environment.

As soon as they get a little successful, their ideals begin to fade - and continue to fade as they get more successful. They can still be good people, but they simply aren't exposed to the thing they tried so hard to fix.

Before you dismiss this idea, think about it. Think about how we throw billions of dollars into helping people, but nobody's situation improves. Think about any successful people you know - they probably still have the fire and personality they had before they became successful, but do they still have the idealistic drive?

I don't know ANY successful people who actually TRY to shake the world. I know some that try to change it - but only by degrees. They set such limited limits.

Right now, I want to shake the world. I'm on the bottom: I'm getting paid a tiny amount to do monkey-work, I don't know very many people here, I live in a studio, I get very little respect, and I certainly don't have much money.

With that urge inside me, I am accomplishing quite a bit. Games, software, art, writing - whether or not it is good, it is better than what I produced while I was relaxing in college.

I only realized this because I was treated so well this past weekend. I could FEEL my urge to shake the world dwindle. Perversely, when I realized this, it grew stronger, but the core idea remains.

What would happen if I got a good job? Would I lose my idealistic drive to shake the world? I think so, almost certainly. If that's the case, do I WANT a good job? Is this where fear of success comes from?

It bears thinking about, and I'm sure I'll post other, related posts.

By the way, if you ever get the chance, the restaurant "ABBA" on Cape Code has tuna steak well worth the price you pay. Make sure to order it rare. Yyyyum.

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