This is a different kind of post. It’s more personal and a bit longer. But there is a message for anyone who considers himself or herself a leader, a change agent, or even a follower.
Allow me to set some context first. I had two friends pass away within the last month, not to mention the news of the 49 killed in my hometown of Orlando. Then there is the recent tragedy in Istanbul. Such events quickly bring you to think of impact: What impact did their passing have? What impact did they have while they were alive?
My two friends were change agents like me. The first friend that passed was Jean Tabaka. I had the pleasure of working with Jean for almost five years at Rally and the experience literally changed my life. I credit Jean for a significant portion of that positive change. Her generosity, her desire to teach and learn, and her gift for inclusion and communication not only impacted me but much of the culture of Rally. It also impacted people where she taught collaboration via conferences, classroom, and her writing. Her example and gifts inspired me to share my own gifts — as often as I could. She obviously inspired many others. When news of her passing was shared, social media burned a bright light for several days with all the mentions of her impact across the world. Her friends quickly established a memorial fund to continue her love of learning, teaching and mentorship. (Please contribute if you were influenced by Jean.)
Last night, I received word that another friend passed. My friend Marty Altman was a change agent in his own right. He was not as public as Jean, but he had a deep impact in all he worked with. We worked together in the mid-1990s on some very cutting edge computer graphics, virtual reality and massive multi-player simulations. Just think about walking along a crowded virtual beach with people splashing and building sandcastles. Yes, that cool, but for some different purposes. Marty went on to use those talents when he went to work as an animator for Disney. I will always see Marty in the crowd and avalanche scenes of the movie Mulan.
Marty’s impact was far beyond technical. He inspired all those around him to push harder and to dare for the impossible. He went on to do research and teaching at various places in the southeast United States. As I see notices roll in via email, he inspired many to push harder and dare for the impossible.
The 49 who lost their lives in Orlando were strangers to me but their deaths occurred in my hometown of Orlando. I am proud of how this city and others have responded and continue to respond to this tragedy. While it is a tragedy, I am seeing love and support overwhelm the hatred that sparked the event.
As I reflect on these recent and past losses, I continue to reflect on the impact of the people and events. I also can’t help but reflect on the impact I have. There have been times in my life where my actions have lit either a fuse or kindling.
In lighting a fuse, you are seeking to make a big change quickly. You are hoping for a “big bang”. But you can rarely know in advance just how extensive the effects of a rapid change will be or even if they will have the desired effects.
However, when you are seeking a slower and more gradual change, it’s like lighting kindling. You have a longer-term purpose past the spark and you are willing to tend the fire of change more carefully. It’s a slow and painstaking process, but the change lasts far longer and can reach more people. Even if others try to put out the slow flame of change, there are still some burning embers that can be rekindled.
So I ask myself as someone who tries to spark positive change in the world:
- Do you light a fuse where you are? Is there a big bang and then damage to recover from? Do you even realize you have lit a fuse?
- Sometimes we even produce “big bangs” we didn’t plan. Did they have a positive or negative result?
- Or do you light kindling? Do you inspire people with your action, your words, or your example? Do you gradually kindle relationships and plans for positive change? Do you try to rekindle the embers when the fire goes out?
In my life, I have lit both. I just hope it’s more kindling than fuses and I hope the passion for something better still burns.
What about you?