As I was grabbing a bite to eat with a colleague of mine, he unintentionally challenged me to consider a fresh perspective. What’s worse – death or irrelevance? Whoa. I actually stopped in the middle of the parking lot and repeated this question aloud a couple of times.
Of course, the knee jerk is to say death because, well, you know, it’s death. There’s no coming back from that one and there is no course correction opportunity. Death takes you out of action. And in the timeline of the next generation, if that, most won’t think of you or know much about you.
But that was just like irrelevance. I thought longer. It seemed a bit dark and cold in the irrelevant box I was envisioning. Words spoken, actions taken did not have a real impact on an audience of peers.
Then the real consequence hit me. Irrelevance still commands a response. The lack of connection and consideration leads to outcomes that can be far-reaching and last quite a long time. When someone dies, a chapter ends, but when someone is irrelevant, chapters continue to be written. Those words might not relate to what’s really happening in our culture, whether work, home or global, but those words will land somewhere.
Joss Whedon, at ComicCon 2016, had a great response to a question about commerce and creativity in movies:
“You used to go to the movies and have no idea what you were going to see. I am actually old enough to have done this: to have gone to the local theater because something was playing. My parents would just send me by myself — rated R, it didn’t matter, just get rid of him. That was the contract. I’ll go see the movie, I’ll open the box, I’ll see what’s inside. We don’t do that anymore. We keep making it harder to. I have trouble watching movies after I’ve seen the trailer, because I’ve seen the movie.”
The movie industry needs us to go see movies, especially the blockbuster budget ones. The cost of making them is so high that the desire for appreciation of the art form is replaced by “we’ve got to pay our backers.” (And funny enough, most questions that Joss got at ComicCon were about Buffy, the Vampire Slayer rather than The Avengers. The sleeper hit with a low budget stuck with people.)
Irrelevance is a poison. It may not provide a one-time lethal dose; however, the long, drawn out poisoning of a culture is torture. Irrelevance leads to systemic brokenness for people. When leaders don’t have a handle on what their followers need as well as desire then they exercise their influence in futility. That’s when maintenance of tried and true processes, of which I have a great respect, become the goal rather than those processes supporting the overall goals. With this latter perspective, a leader would consistently look for what’s better – more efficient, more appealing, more cost-effective, more true to product/service development. And when a relevant improvement is found, it’s excitedly applied and replaces/improves something currently in use.
Relevance is about thoughts and ideas as much as it’s about action and results. And when we don’t look to them, we can bring death to our charge. Irrelevance has claimed many corporate lives through the decades. An inability to see what matters to people, what products will help support others, and what services will bring improved quality to life leaves a company without an impact path.
Check with a mentor or coach about your path. Simply ask the question, “Am I relevant in the work I’m doing, the decisions I’m making and the life I’m living?” Be ready for the response, too. You may not like the full answer, but receive it all at once and let it marinate for a few days. You’ll then be able to be more receptive of the perspective offered.
So, while death closes a chapter, it might be a welcome close rather than living for chapters in an irrelevant state to those around you. We desire connection, confirmation and confidence. Irrelevance separates us from those desires on a long-term basis. Our footing becomes unsure and we struggle to fit. We legislate instead of lead. We marginalize instead of organize. We impede rather than impact.