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February 11, 2008
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Opposites Attract

Two of the essential characteristics which mark the lives of successful and happy people would seem at first glance to be polar opposites. They are patience and a compelling sense of urgency.

That urgency can be our number one tool to prevent the tremendous waste of life, energy and progress that results from inertia.  Sir Isaac Newton was correct in stating that “a body at rest will remain at rest.” His first law of motion defines inertia.

Sadly however, it also defines much of what we see going on in society in which opportunities, money and abilities are squandered as people watch four hours a day of television on average, “walk by” opportunities to explore and innovate, and retreat behind bunkers composed of the walls of gated communities or huge rule books. 

The HR Doctor however, only quoted the first part of Newton’s First Law. It has a second, equally important part. A body at rest will remain at rest — unless acted upon by an outside force.

A compelling sense of urgency can be that strong outside force to push us off the couch and turn us into mentors of others, good neighbors, explorers of new hobbies, visitors to other cultures and public administrators willing to confront serious problems constructively in a constant search for innovative answers. 

These “push factors” may disrupt the security of our comfort zones. They may not be popular with various colleagues or the media, but they may represent policy visions which solve problems for many people for many years to come.

Take away a sense of urgency, and a major incentive is also lost to step out and make good things happen. It may be easier, some may think, to stay comfortably wrapped in a down comforter on a cold day, but if that approach is taken in the other areas of life, the comfort of the moment gives way to boredom and missed opportunities which can never be recaptured.

One of the hardest things for Americans to come to grips with is fighting off the urges of instant gratification. Much of that television watching or television time-wasting described above includes commercials calling on us to “call in the next 15 minutes.”

Not a day goes by when the HR Doctor doesn’t receive credit card offers along with other offers to take advantage of this or that debt reduction service to improve my credit score.

Moving through life at warp speed often means that we miss the chance to take an amazing photograph of a bird in flight or a bird building a nest. It means not stopping in the midst of a beautiful forest to watch how the light changes dramatically in just a few minutes. It means not spending time with our family members or colleagues at work to learn more about them in order to help them realize their dreams. 

It means spending a paltry four minutes a day on average as a parent in private, uninterrupted conversation with a child.  “Not now, do not disturb, I’m too busy,” are all the mantras of individuals, and, in fact, of a country which learns to appreciate the short-term view at the expense of a long-term vision.

Elected officials seem to focus on the next commission meeting or the end of the next term in office rather than focusing on the next generation. We look for quick Band-Aids which often result not in solutions, but in squandering money, time and lives. 

Having a long-range vision in life is not easy in our culture but it is most rewarding. How ironic that not until we get older and our eyes get worse are we better able to see a lot of what we have missed.

If only we could create through our science and technology a new form of optometry — the ability to correct our vision so that we can make better policy and a better society.

The recipe for being able to do this mixes patience with courage and a compelling sense of urgency to act for the long-term good rather than for the short-term “15 minutes of fame.”

All the best,

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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