Antoinette and the Exploding Donuts
Antoinette taught me much. Imaginative, with unrepressed affection and silly at all the right times, Antoinette also made me laugh. A lot.
Antoinette, a fellow graduate student at NCSU, worked overnight at the local donut factory. She was the lone PM donut-filler whose sole responsibility was to ‘make ready’ the donuts for AM consumption. She soon grew tired of her job.
Antoinette’s alleviation? She crammed whipped cream above and beyond into a dozen donuts and heckled like a mad woman as each donut exploded on the slab.
Antoinette’s boss, amused as he was by the fried-dough and cream splattered carnage, suggested to Antoinette that she might be better suited for a job that didn’t include filling donuts; an easy transition for Antoinette, who readily agreed.
Making People Ready for Work
In organizations, people are often ‘made ready’ for work* as though they’re donuts to explode; a fact that became apparent to me when I became a Fortune 100 ‘people and culture’ consultant in the mid-90s.
Thanks to Antoinette and the lessons I gleaned from her time at the donut factory, I became adept at making people ready for work in vivo.**
In vivo looks and feels messy. Linearly, it looks like a bunch of scrawly lines.
Escher, for one.
Making people ready for work in vivo is the living and/both. It’s an infinite process; one that molds and draws out. Relativity, it seems, (M.C. Escher, 1953***) has legs (and is much more neatly drawn than in vivo scrawly lines).
‘We give birth to excellence,’ Carrie Camino, a Chicago-based Director of Operations Excellence for West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consulting company with a focus on creating distinctive solutions for companies undergoing profound change, pitched her words toward me as though she was throwing a fast ball in the zone. I had been talking with Carrie by phone about excellence and the Millennial generation for the better part of twenty minutes when her words flew by.
A split second later it hit me: Millennials are learning how to birth excellence in complexity (also an in vivo happenin’) – a cultural potential that could only take place in the digital-age via the Millennial generation.****
Excellence In Complexity
Each generation of Americans has a story to tell. Within a generational story, there is a dominant cultural theme which is especially visible in hindsight. For example, the GI generation’s dominant cultural theme: Save the world and build a nation; the Baby Boom generation’s dominant cultural theme: Give rise to a counterculture and revolutionize the way we live.
The Millennial generation’s dominant theme is emerging in the first half of the 21st century. Perhaps excellence in complexity will play a pertinent part in their story-in-the-making and in their dominant-theme-to-come.
Nonetheless, let’s bone-up on the structure of excellence in complexity as a starting point for birthing excellence (by choice) in a complex social milieu, i.e., a personal complex social milieu or a place where you live and work with family, friends and other people, creatures and things.
A point of view to gain shared understanding? As an interpersonal communication researcher, I’ll hone in on how we, as humans, communicate.
The Structure of Excellence In Complexity: A 21st Century Communication Approach*****
Excellence in complexity is organized around the following seven communication precepts:
1. Communication is all that we do.
2. Communication is creative, not descriptive.
3. Communication creates perception.
4. Perception is reality.
5. Reality is permeable. (Its boundaries will shift and re-shape themselves depending upon what and how we communicate.)
6. Permeability (one’s particular ability) gives rise to one’s particular purpose.
7. Purpose (doing your own thing) is at the crux of excellence…or what’s known as personal significance in the 21st century?
Antoinette, for one.
Antoinette and the Road Not Taken
Years after we graduated, I ran into Antoinette at the health food store. She laughed unapologetically when I mentioned the exploding donuts. After an uproarious meeting of the minds, I thanked her for showing me how to follow the road less traveled, the road that leads to personal significance, by simply doing her own thing long ago on an ordinary night at the donut factory.
And you? How many donuts will you explode on the road less traveled?
The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost, 1920
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
*’Made ready’ for work includes learning processes such as onboarding, classroom training, executive coaching, SDL, ARL, etc.
**In a living body or natural setting.
***See Relativity and other Escher drawings here: http://www.mcescher.com/.
****For greater understanding and know-how on operational excellence and complexity, review Weick, K. and Sutclife, K. (2007). Managing the unexpected: Resilient performance in an age of uncertainty. 2nd ed., Jossey-Bass.
*****Structure: The arrangement of and relations between the elements of a complex system.