Perseveration, or perseverance? Obsession, or passion?

The distinction between “perseverate” and “persevere” is one that I have often wondered about. What I’ve come up with, in a nutshell, is this:

  • perseverate is bad, keeping at something for no real purpose
  • persevere is good, keeping at something in pursuit of a meaningful goal.

Another way to look at it is that someone who perseverates is acting on an obsession, while someone who perseveres is pursuing a passion. In his article Passion Versus ObsessionJohn Hagel provides some insight into this distinction as he reconsiders his earlier question, “When does passion become obsession?“:

To say passion becomes obsession is to make a distinction of degree. It implies that obsession is a more passionate form of passion—too much of a good thing. However, I’m now convinced that passion and obsession do not vary in degree, but in kind. In fact, in many ways they are opposite. [original emphasis]

A real challenge for all parents, but especially parents of autistic kids, is to understand the difference between an obsession and a passion of our kids. Consider the following, a passage that I wrote comparing two different authors’ views on the effect and value of video games:

To Prensky, video games are a passion that can lead to positive learning and skills…. For the Bruners, video games are an obsession that lead to destroyed lives.

If you read the entire article, you will see that the amazing thing is that both Prensky and the Bruners had basically the same understanding of how games work and draw players in but come to wildly different – opposing – conclusions about what it means. For one, games provided an outlet for passion; for the other, games are a destructive obsession.

So how exactly do you figure out if your kid’s behavior is an obsession – so you can help understand and overcome it – or a passion that you can nurture and encourage?  For many parents, especially of “normal” kids, this can seem pretty straightforward: if your kid is interested in something weird, it is an obsession; if it is something more common, then it is a passion.

But just a few seconds thought, serious thought, and you realize that this is not a very good way to make this distinction. Or, as teenage autistic Luke Jackson asks (in a quote that I’ve used before) with more than a hint of sarcasm:

When is an obsession not an obsession?

When it is about football.

For parents of autistic kids, this question is more than academic. Perseveration, or what we believe is perseveration, is a hallmark of autistic behavior. But what if what we are seeing is really just good old-fashioned perseverance?

Rehearsal is editing in pre-production

Last week Seth Godin wrote that rehearsing is for cowards. My first thought when I saw that headline was, “Seth Godin just called me a coward!”  If you’ve read my The importance of rehearsal, you know what I mean.

Like most of Godin’s writing, though, you have to take this one in the spirit in which it is written – deliberately extreme headline to catch your attention and then a very specific context in which it applies. In this case, his definition of rehearsal is very narrow and, to me, is really a definition of memorization.

At the end of the article he says that “A well-rehearsed performance will go without a hitch.” As if that is a bad thing. If you are trying to create your art live, then obviously it is bad. But not all art is created live and unfiltered, unedited.

Some art is created in post-production, when the book / album / film is edited into it’s final form.

And some art is created in pre-production, during rehearsal as things are tried and discarded, tried and changed, or new things added.

Rehearsal is simply editing in pre-production.

The biggest security threat in the digital age is…

… not Microsoft, not social media tools, but: PEOPLE.

A recent blog post by Dave Snowden and some commentary by Luis Suarez have reminded me of something Bruce Schneier said a while back (in 2004, actually):

Since the beginning of time, people have always been the biggest security threat. That hasn’t changed because of computers. People are why firewalls are invariably misconfigured. They’re why social engineering works. They’re why good security products are rarely deployed properly. Securing the computer and network is hard, but it’s much easier than securing the person sitting on the chair in front of the monitor. (emphasis is mine)

In his commentary, Luis makes an interesting point that social networking – not the tools, but the activity – may be in part responsible for these types of lapses in security and uses it as a teaching point.

And, for once, social networking didn’t have anything to do with it. Oh, did it? Well, perhaps it has got plenty to do with it!; after all, don’t social software tools encourage us all to listen to what’s happening out there? Maybe they will also help us understand how we can mitigate those perceived risks by having each and everyone of us walking the talk, i.e. behaving responsively with the information and knowledge that we are exposed to, and share across accordingly, day in day out, for that matter… You wouldn’t want a total stranger to know, coming out right out of your mouth!, your full credit card number, your date of birth and any other kind of identification material, right? (emphasis his)

In the military this is called OPSEC, or Operational Security, and it is drilled into soldiers’ heads almost daily. It is, in other words, a way of life.

On the other hand, there is a fine line between appropriate security and being paranoid. With an understanding of what you really need to protect, and what is not so vital, and a bit of thought, you should be able to find that line.

And it is a line that you need to find.

If your purpose is to win…

…you have already lost.

Competing – and hopefully winning – can be a key part of any journey, but it shouldn’t be the destination. If reaching your destination is all you have to look forward to, what happens when you get there?

Or as I tell my sons: the goal of competition is, of course, to win, but your purpose – for training, for competing – should be to learn, to grow. To have fun.

The lizard brain of Leonardo da Vinci

On my way back to the hotel this evening, I stopped by the El Paso History Museum to visit “The Da Vinci Experience”, an exhibit of machines and models of quite a few of da Vinci’s many inventions and ideas. Over the years I’ve read many books about da Vinci, explored his notebooks online, and even helped my son when he did a project for his world history class.

But to see his ideas physically incarnated was something else altogether.

All of the models were implemented primarily in wood, some set up as static displays (please don’t touch) and some as hands on to play with. If you’ve taken physics classes, or if you are someone who likes to tinker, many of the ideas related to pulleys, gears, and other mechanical gadgets will seem like old hat.

Until, that is, you take a moment to consider that no one taught these things to Leonardo. He had to create the knowledge that, even today, many people find hard to understand. Knowledge that continues – 500 years later – to make our lives better.

How did he do it? Was he smarter than the rest of us, blessed with an inate intelligence that we can only dream of. I don’t think so. Did he have better opportunities than the rest of us? The historical record shows that he started worse off than many and made his own opportunities throughout his life.

One thing is certain, da Vinci made very good use of his time. He may not have been very efficient, and he had a tendency to leave things unfinished. But he had ideas, a lot of ideas, both good and bad. And he wasn’t afraid to pursue them. He didn’t cave in to what Seth Godin calls the resistance, the lizard brain that tries to save us from ourselves.

And I think that is the real genius of Leonardo da Vinci: observe the world and follow your ideas where ever they take you, and don’t let anyone – especially you – convince you otherwise.

Ignore everybody (but don’t ignore this book)

Like Rework (which I reviewed last week), Ignore Everybody is my kind of book. Written by Hugh MacLeod of gapingvoid.com, it is made up of 40 short essays that each dive into a very specific idea or question. And pictures, lots of pictures from the cube-grenade gallery at gapingvoid.com.

Based on many years of experience, the advice that MacLeod dispenses is almost brutal in its description of what aspiring artists (used in the loosest, Seth Godin-esque way) have to look forward to, and what they have to do to get there. Just reading the essay titles gives you an idea of what to expect:

  • Put the hours in
  • If your business plan depends on suddenly being “discovered” by some bit shot, your plan will probably fail
  • Keep your day job
  • Selling out is harder than it looks

If you are looking for an “easy ticket” to success, this isn’t the book that will get you there. (Hint: such a book doesn’t exist.)

None of this is new, of course, to those who are interested in pursuing mastery and are willing to put in the effort it takes to achieve that mastery. Who aren’t focused on a specific outcome but are interested in the journey on which they find themselves. There is plenty in the book to reinforce the importance of that attitude:

  • Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether
  • Sing in your own voice
  • Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time
  • Write from the heart
  • The best way to get approval is not to need it

In some ways, this book simply tells us what most of already know. Maybe we know it subconsciously, just under the radar of what we are willing to acknowledge. Maybe we know that it is true but just can’t bring ourselves to do anything about it. But as MacLeod lays out in the opening essay:

GOOD IDEAS ALTER THE POWER BALANCE IN RELATIONSHIPS. THAT IS WHY GOOD IDEAS ARE ALWAYS INITIALLY RESISTED.

Good ideas come with a heavy burden, which why so few people execute them. So few people can handle it.

Ignore Everybody simply lays it out on the table to where you can’t ignore it, where you have to decide for yourself, “Can I handle it?”

One of my favorites...

Kids, sacrifice, and the master’s journey

I don’t remember exactly where I read this, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, but this little anecdote captures the essence of mastery, and the sacrifice that often goes with it:

A world class, and world famous, dancer was approached by an excited fan following a performance.

“You were fantastic!” the fan said. “I’d give half my life to be able to dance like that.”

“That’s exactly what I did,” responded the dancer.

Ian competing on TrampIf you are the parent of a child involved in athletics at the elite level, or an adult who was one of those kids, you know exactly what this dancer is talking about. My own personal experience as a parent is with gymnastics.

My son was (is) very talented on the trampoline (he was a national champion at his age / level), but when it came time to make the move into “elite”, he recognized that he wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice demanded of that level. We know plenty of others who chose to make that sacrifice.

(As an aside, there is quite the business in “online education” for those young athletes who are unable to attend school – middle, high – because of their intense training schedule.)

The hardest part of embarking on the master’s journey is the knowledge of the sacrifices you must make, the things that you must give up or resign yourself to never experience. That is why I think it is so much easier for kids – or younger people – to commit themselves to that journey.

As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure that our kids have a “childhood”. Many times this takes the form of making sure they are “well rounded”, and don’t spend too much time on any one thing. In other words, setting up roadblocks on the master’s path.

How much of this is because we really think this is best for our kids, and how much of it is an expression of our own fear of the tough journey?