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Keeping Things Under Control, or Not

This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.”  Admiral Josh Painter in Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for the Red October.

The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.”  Artist, author, teacher Julia Cameron

It would be a gross understatement to say that IF’s patron and founder Jay Stern was fond of emphasizing the need to “keep things under control,” most especially when it came to administrative details.  And it can’t be denied that careful planning and tracking of assigned responsibilities and pending and completed tasks, activities, timetables, costs, etc. is a key—and perhaps the essential and defining—function of effective administration.

However, more broadly insisting on “control” in all aspects of life and work and especially for our creative and developmental efforts strikes me as a false (if understandable) and counterproductive conceit—the kind most often engaged in by those self-assured and invincible egos commonly found on Wall Street and more generally between the ages of 13 and middle age. It’s an all too well worn cliché that the success of any inventor, entrepreneur, artist or other creator depends hugely upon their willingness to try things at the edge of and beyond their control and by the unexpected, unanticipated, and most especially their (frequent and often complete) failures.  And at the risk of sounding entirely sententious, it is often only when are able to surrender to our inability to “control” everything that we become open to the opportunity for real growth and insight.

I think the same holds true for IF’s ongoing developmental work:  namely that while we should always strive to administer our work as effectively and efficiently as possible, we should also readily accept that we will fail to “control” every effort, experiment, or—most certainly—discussion.  It’s both inevitable and, I would argue, ultimately desirable that mistakes will be made, some discussions won’t go well, and some things will get out of “control.” Shit happens. The key is to be willing to consider its potential use as fertilizer…and to have a shovel ready.