Friday, October 18, 2013

This Is The End

No, alas, I'm not going to try to one-up the Rogen/Goldberg movie.  Their budget is bigger than mine.

I did see another movie this week: "The Art of The Steal" by Don Argott.  Though not a business themed movie in any traditional sense, it conjures up the issue of legacy in a way that is both poignant and directly relatable to small business.

Argott's story is a recounting of how Albert Barnes amassed what is arguably the world's finest collection of post impressionist art, and then sought to own/protect it indefinitely via a carefully constructed will. Barnes' eye for art was impeccable.  His desire to preserve the collection for educational purposes was noble.  Moreover, Barnes' right to direct the future of his property was unquestionable: the collection was his.  He paid for it in cash.

But like Icarus, Barnes' success-inflated ego made for a fall whose height was not only matched but defined by the scope, magnitude, and value of his collection.  As Argott tells the story (in tragic tones), fifty years after Barnes' passing, a group of wealthy art-oriented business people managed to ride roughshod over Barnes' will and repurpose his art collection, now worth an estimated 25 billion dollars.

The point Argott makes is that Barnes' collection was stolen from him.  From a legal perspective, that conclusion is inescapable.  But the Dark Side of that judgement, discussed nowhere, is that perhaps Barnes' desire to control the living from beyond his grave was a leap of ego-fueled delusion...that legacy is controllable only for so long.  Adding insult to injury, I think there may be evidence that the grander one's legacy, the more rapid and more certain it is to succumb.

We are here, and then we are gone.  To spend our days and energies shaping lives of beauty is a uniquely human path.  Our sense of meaning drives our energies.  We build families.  We build friendships.  We build homes.  We amass art collections. We build businesses.  We build nations.  When we lie on our deathbeds, I would imagine, we take comfort in what we have done with our lives.  Our accomplishments are evidence of our participation in the human endeavor...that we have wrung meaning out of the mysterious void around us.

But the flip side of humanity's beauty  is that, by definition, it ends.  Like Andrew Moore's (beautiful and highly recommended) photographs of  industrial decay in Dearborn, Michigan, we should be reminded that the ongoing energies we expend to build our lives are an express guarantee that our constructions will be undone with our passing. The only thing that holds our lives together is our energy.  And in the absence of our energy, the people and love and stuff that we have assembled and collected and shaped will unglue and dissociate.

When our metabolic fire is extinguished and our blood ceases to flow, our bodies begin to decay.  Likewise, someday, our human energy will dissipate, and our precious personal achievements will return to the lawless earth to be recycled.

And this is not sad.  Like the beauty and misery of motorcycling in the rain, it is part and parcel.  This is how life is.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Peril of Self-Aggrandizement

Call me a Negative Nancy, but I believe that not just one but many monsters lurk inside each one of us.  To address them all doesn't require a blog post; it requires an encyclopedia and a wiki website.  So for today, let's limit things to just one small, tidy monster.

There is a terrible monster inside each of us.  A proclivity.  A need.  We all desperately want to be important, to feel validated, to show that our work and our influence extends beyond ourselves.  We plunge recklessly forward, going to remarkable lengths to indulge this monster...sometimes to the point of defeating the ultimate goals we have in mind.

This week I find myself involved in a new project (which will remain unidentified for the time being).  There is a goal, and then there are several ways to get there.  Some ways are "big".  They involve incorporation, a board of directors, and extensive (and enduring) involvement with the City of Denver.  Other ways tread more lightly and leave fewer footprints.  They lack the gravitas and politico-sexiness of the Big Infrastructure path.  Out with the board of directors, in with the cheap DIY business cards.

The question is one of efficacy and goal.  If we wish to build a towering testament to our skills, egos, and enlightenment, then perhaps the "big" way is best.  But if our eyes remain on the prize, the REAL prize, then we may find that our cause and our comrades are best served by doing our work and then just stepping out of the way.

Someday this will be less vague.  I promise.