The Power of Ponder
Ballet is one of the art forms I most enjoy. Its combination of discipline and sensitive flow make it hard to master but breathtaking to watch. So why do I shun Swan Lake? Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in the late 19th Century it has come to epitomise classical ballet with its emphasis on good versus evil and beauty versus ugly. All the ingredients of a good story, you might say.
But why does the Swan have to take so long dying? Just as you think it’s time to gather up your belongings and make for the exit, she starts another paroxysm of anguished mortality and leaves us gasping for how many times one creature can actually die. Charlie Chaplin had it right in his film Limelight. Playing the old clown, he gets near the end only to be revived for yet another agonising exit. “I’ve died so many times,” he moans – and we moan with him.
Many stories go on for too long. So do many meetings, conversations and, it has to be admitted, writings. The moment of the impressive, dramatic exit gives way to a reprise we didn’t really want. In the process it loses all our sympathy and we pray, as one does in some operas, that the end will be swift, painless and, above all, soon. Why do people drag out the finale so?
Mostly is it fear that some new thought may be called for, some unfamiliar subject could be raised, something might happen that stops us all agreeing and causes one of us to argue. We are, for the most part, an agreeable lot, anxious to support our fellow thinkers so that they may, in turn, support us. Back-scratching is a well-established practice of humanity. You…mine…me…yours. The intention is good but it is the source of much dishonesty in the world.
Sometimes we (literally) drive ourselves too hard. On a road in Britain many years ago I had a bad accident. Fortunately nobody was injured but both cars were written off. It was twilight, that dangerous time when distances are distorted. It was a notorious road, one that had the doubtful distinction of more fatal accidents than any other road in the south of England. I was anxious to get home. The car in front of me was slower than I wanted to be. I overtook at exactly the wrong moment. Only minutes before I had been saying to myself, ‘be careful’.
It was a time when I should have slowed down – stopped even – and pondered. What was all the rush for? I might have saved three minutes on the journey – and then done what with the time? Recognising the time to ponder can be a life-saver. More often it is a business saver, a relationship manager, a mini-meditation to check we are on the right track. In the arts that track is often the curtain. Leave them asking for more and they are happy.
In business life it is not flogging a subject to death. Agreement on where we have got to is as important as agreement on where we are going. But once a certain stage has been reached further discussion leading to repetitive agreement is not so much consensus-making as lemming-like. Recognise PONDER and practice it. Make your own mental hurdles and see if you can clear them.
What are the Ponder Points that we can apply to virtually all situations?
What happens if we don’t do (whatever it is we are thinking of doing or starting to do)?
What happens if we stop (what we are doing now) and try to commercialise it immediately?
What happens if we stop (what we are doing) and look at it from the point of view of someone who we would expect to disagree with it?
What if (what we are doing) is tremendously successful. How will we take it further?
What are the possible (unforeseen) consequences of (what we are doing now)?
What is our best hope for the outcome of (what we are doing now)?
You will have your own questions to add to these rather general ones. Good to be specific but don’t ignore the questions above. They are how other people see your project – a slightly cold and unfeeling approach to what has become your pet development. But products are not babies.
Above all make sure you stop often enough to ponder the fundamentals of where you are and where the road you are on leads to. Too fast and you will join a herd of Gadarene Swine with disastrous consequences. Too slow and you will lose everyone’s interest.
STOP when you get to ‘Ponder’.
Ponder to refresh your mind.