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observing Un-expectations..

by | Dec 24, 2020 | Handel, observe, Unexpected

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Knowing that you need to make a change, and actually doing it are related, but take a different focus. Much of the trite advice you see, like “You should go TO something and not run FROM something”… like my Bosses feedback… not so helpful. In fact, my experiences at IBM simply confirmed that change is rarely chosen, and often forced on you, ready or not. And a pattern I railed against started to emerge in an Unexpected way… 

Starting way back in Houston, the leaders there would hire their old friends from previous portions of their careers. Always introduced with the accolades – from THEN – and no clear connection to what we needed NOW, I looked at that with great anger and disdain. It didn’t help that many of them made no bones about the real motivation was to get out the cold frozen tundra known as Yankee Land to me at that phase of my life.  Having rotated through that cold portion of the country, the pattern re-emerged in other portions of IBM. Even here at Fannie, people often hired previous partners, co-workers, particularly ex-consultants. Merit appeared to be an afterthought… 

Your brain loves surprise… but not too much… so how to find that balance? I have written before about the album Tommy, and how important it was to my own musical story.  One of the pieces I go to often is the Overture. From those opening lines, you know immediately this is going to be very different, and your brains approach it with the Dopamine of “wow.. What is this”… but only for a short period of time until a different theme emerges.  Repeat.  Repeat. Within 5 minutes, you have observed the entire album without knowing it… and those little hooks are waiting and tempting you into the full rendering of each theme.  It is is now expecting the surprises that await it… like old friends.

Handel was at the lowest point of his life so far. Even with the Kings pension supporting him, his musical styles had been soundly rejected by the common man, the church, and only pity came from the aristocracy.  Even the commission came to him from a “friend”… so was it really something he had to do, or simply a lifeline? In the world of suicide, they actually talk about this – at your lowest point, you don’t have the energy to act… but as you start to get just a little away from that sine wave valley, you now do… and that is the most dangerous portion of recovery… just AFTER you hit bottom.

Just after the commission from Charles, he was approached to write a piece for a benefit concert in Dublin that was raising money to free men from a debtor’s prison.  Maybe he thought he might be IN one soon, and that perhaps this might be “paying it forward” 😉 No matter, it was the spark he needed to buckle down and focus on generating a piece worthy of the occasion, and something to start his “come back tour” to use a couple of modern phrases.  

Friends know your Overture. They have seen you do great things, not such great things, and everything in between, and on balance, they wouldn’t be reaching out if their brains were not producing a little Dopamine along with the wry smile when thinking of your name.  As in “… he I know a person who would be great for this!”… Sure this particular opportunity is different, sometimes vastly different, but the Unexpected thing that I know: the “who” often matters as much or more than the “what” or “how”… Some of that is my own personal lens, but I offer it to you as a learning from this season that continues, like the King’s pension, to pay me 😉 

Stung by the insights from my boss, I recalled a going away party that I had helped coordinate. In my roll as Court Jester, it fell to me to help coordinate the departure of the person that hired me into Fannie, and was one of the most trusted partners of the CIO.  He had recently started his own observations, and that included going out on his own, out of the shadow of that strong supporter who also had put him into a number of difficult positions.  Unexpectedly, he had decided to ACTUALLY leave – not just think about it. It was a very bittersweet evening, and one of the things I remembered now was what he said as we closed the door, a different form of Overture: “When I call you, pick up”. 

I expect you are now ready for one of the best pieces of music ever written… by a broken man with a chip on his shoulder, and a charity that needed to raise a little money. And woven together with a person that had been doing others biddings a little too long, and needed to spread his wings and see if he could actually do this leadership and management thing – well.  And it is on the ultimate evening of observing… Wishing you the happiest of Christmas Eve’s, the Overture from Handel’s Messiah.

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