On staying a “wild goose”

Stay hungry, stay foolish…”

Indeed, but sitting in any big fat company, where any of one’s individual efforts is likely to have only a passing impact on the macro trends (growth, stock price, compensation), can be like living in Shawshank: even when free to do otherwise, you keep asking permission, even to pee.

On my way through the in door at Google, a burned-out PM who was about to depart told me about learned helplessness & Brownian motion (think dust particles in a room—energetic, but not actually going anywhere). “You know that guy Reek on Game of Thrones—just psychologically broken? Yeah, that’s what you become here.” Comedic exaggeration aside, he wasn’t wholly wrong.

All this comes to mind as a friend at Google shared a cautionary tale by Søren Kierkegaard that Thomas J. Watson, CEO of IBM in its glory days, used to tell:

There was once a wild goose.

In the autumn, about the time for migration, it became aware of some tame geese. It became enamored by them, thought it a shame to fly away from them, and hoped to win them over so that they would decide to go along with it on the flight. To that end it became involved with them in every possible way. It tried to entice them to rise a little higher and then again a little higher in their flight, that they might, if possible, accompany it in the flight, saved from the wretched, mediocre life of waddling around on the earth as respectable, tame geese.

At first, the tame geese thought it very entertaining and liked the wild goose. But soon they became very tired of it, drove it away with sharp words, censured it as a visionary fool devoid of experience and wisdom.

Alas, unfortunately the wild goose had become so involved with the tame geese that they had gradually gained power over it, their opinion meant something to it – and gradually the wild goose became a tame goose.

In a certain sense there was something admirable about what the wild goose wanted. Nevertheless, it was a mistake, for – this is the law – a tame goose never becomes wild, but a wild goose can certainly become tame.

If what the wild goose tried to do is to be commended in any way, then it must above all watch out for one thing – that it hold on to itself.

As soon as it notices that the tame geese have any kind of power over it, then away, away in migratory flight.

Or as Frederick Douglass said, “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Now let’s go into the weekend, sticking it to The Man with some Arcade Fire.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock


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