Nicky's Blog

Getting Around The Brick Wall

It's very important to know when you're in a pissing match, and it's very important to get out of it as quickly as possible.
-Professor Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

That quote comes from Randy's story about negotiating around a troublesome Dean. He'd managed to get Disney Imagineering to let him in at a time when they were building the Aladdin virtual reality ride. Not only that, he'd managed to convince one of the most secretive organisations around to publish a paper on the topic. For Randy, who'd dreamed of working there since he was a kid, this was everything.

But he had to get it approved by his Dean, who said no.

There was some back and forth. The Dean's main issue was a clause in the contract stating Disney would own any IP Randy generated there, to which Randy pointed out he had no IP, he didn't make patentable stuff.

'Yeah, but you might, so just get them to change that little clause.'

In Wednesday's bonus post to my email subscribers (which I'll resend to any new subs this week - subscribe here), I talked about the importance of not always having to have an opinion. We have a tendency to get wrapped up in them, whether that's over politics or food, and if we're not careful they can dictate our emotions and send us crashing down. But sometimes a problem needs fixing, and your particular viewpoint may help.

I’ve had something similar to Randy's debate with the Dean, only about an improvement suggestion. I’d gotten some others behind it, had a half fleshed out idea, and bought it up as a potential idea. It did not go well .

Now, it was 4pm at the end of a long day, so I was unprepared and far too tired, but no matter how much I like to beat myself with that stick, it was a pissing match, pure and simple. We were both stuck in our perspectives; we both had points, and we knew it. And I let it get to me.

I felt like if I could just explain my point better, I'd get there. I felt as though not convincing them was a failure on my part. That flooded in a lot of other side issues - stories for other days. But I wanted to prove myself, and so I let myself get sucked in.

That was a fair while ago. It's still wrecking my head.

When the Dean said that to Randy, he knew he was in a pissing match, and it was going nowhere fast. He needed to get out.

'Well, isn't this a problem for the Dean of Sponsored Research, if it's an IP issue?'

'Well, yeah, I guess it is.'

'So if he's happy, you're happy.'

'I guess so.'

And boom, out he went.

It can be unbelievably hard to realise this in the moment. To be mindful enough amidst the emotions and the self-belief to realise you're going nowhere but down, and fast. But sometimes you can, sometimes you will, and when you do, get out. Fast. Find your way around this particular brick wall, even if that's a retreat for now. Some victories just aren't meant to be, and you're not doing yourself or anyone else any favours by continuing as though you'll get there if you just try harder.

Randy won his. He got the Dean of Sponsored Research on side, took his sabbatical, and published what they called the first and last paper from Disney Imagineering. Then he continued with his dream, working one day a week as a consultant alongside being a Professor.

I lost mine at the first hurdle, but there’s still a race to run. Still a wall to climb, if I want it hard enough.

And that is the real test.

If you haven't already, definitely watch The Last Lecture. It's is heartbreaking, life affirming, funny, and wonderful. You can also read it, with additional chapters thrown in. I recommend it to literally anyone I get close with. And now, to random strangers on the internet.

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