September 4, 2000—Extinguishing
What do you think about burn-out? Had any lately?
I meet it coming around every corner. It is totally indiscriminate, striking
old and young, rich and poor, urban wastrels and country cousins,
businessmen and bureaucrats and bookish academics.
Twenty or thirty years ago I gave a speech in Pensacola, Florida. On the
dais with me was a local prophet who disgorged volumes about stress. "Gosh,"
I said to myself, "We are really in trouble if stress has emigrated to
Pensacola." Well, now I know. It has. It is an even more pervasive epidemic
than Lyme Disease, asthma, or obesity. If Will Rogers were alive today, we
would be calling him Worry Rogers.
Anything you can think of causes stress. That's what Hans Selye taught us
about the stress syndrome. It's the disease with a 1,000 fathers: it's the
disease with a billion children worldwide all suffering from burn-out.
But I would cast a vote for two major catalysts. Our political leaders--from
Bubba on down--are pretty dysfunctional, and they have been able to spread
stress in their wake. At the same time Technology with a big T has been
more disruptive than Clayton knows: we have not been able to successfully
integrate new, alien technologies into our lives. We call them "friendly,"
but they are not.
Enough, however, about burn-out and its causes. That kind of discussion only
increases our pain and stress.
What to do? I talked with my house painter this morning and we agreed it
helps to put more craft into your job. For at least 10 years we have been
doing a lot more, but we have not been doing it better. Doing less and doing
it terribly well breeds a sense of purpose which, marvelously, causes us to
levitate and rise above the tension.
Secondly, some of us think we need to make some big moves. Ever since the
end of the Cold War the nation has been engaged in an exercise in
incrementalism, even on the business front. The current administration has
been diligently fertilizing the weeds. We need to do a few big ideas.
That's why in Leading the Revolution, Gary Hamel has come out
for big-time innovation. He says that the value of process improvement has
pretty much run its course, and it is time for real originality.
Which brings us to this week's Dictim--MTV plus Cops and Robbers. In short,
we think good business and good government now consist of coming up with a
clear, big idea, expressing it vividly and simply, and acting on it with
Tell us if that will help you get over your burn-out and brownouts (we are
in for more utility blackouts since the whole electric system is really in a
muddle). Quality mixed with a little climb up Mount Everest.
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