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A Culture of Reality Distortion

It is said that Steve Jobs gave off a
Reality Distortion Field.
I used to work where they taught people
How to create a field of Reality Distortion.
It's called MIT.
How to explain this
Without sounding
Arrogant, scornful, or silly?
After leaving MIT's employ
I have struggled mightily
To learn and live habits
Of separating the important from the unimportant
And to devote the appropriate amount
Of time and energy to each.
I've experienced many moments of,
There I go again:
Giving in to some futile obsession.
Continuing to invest in a time sink.
Identifying the sensible course of action
But doing something else instead.
I expect everyone has such moments.
But I keep coming back to
How we'd do things at MIT:
When overwhelmed,
I would ask,
"Which of these five things can I drop?"
I would be answered,
"No, those five are prerequisites for
These ten.
If any one of them is dropped
It will be a disaster!"
"The one you care most about
Should be dropped."
Both answers leaving me feeling
More desperate than ever
To ignore constraints and push on through
After leaving, I would complain to friends,
"MIT is a place
Where a functional conversation
About resourcing or relative importance
Is simply not possible!"
As I meditated on this conflict:
Wanting to devote myself
To the few truly important things,
But habitually ignoring
Sensible measures of importance resourcing,
My experience at MIT kept coming back to mind.
I kept remembering examples:
Leadership flying in the face of observable resource limits
And constant mixed messages about relative importance.
I kept failing to find counterexamples.
I concluded:
MIT is a culture
Of Reality Distortion.
They deliver what has heretofore
Been declared impossible.
We all practiced until it was second nature:
Rejecting any question of priority or resourcing.
Justifying our pet project as special.
Stating, sometimes explicitly,
Sometimes implicitly
That it too would be
An important success previously deemed impossible,
Or a disaster avoided through heroic measures.
The recipe to create a Reality Distortion Field:
Reject questions of feasibility.
Deliver the infeasible often enough
To set expectations inside yourself and for others
That this time too is Special.
It's a hard habit to break.

4 November 2015

by Bill Cattey