By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 15, 2014
Readers who follow this blog will have already guessed what today’s post is going to be about:
The Oakland Raiders are an example of an institutional culture. The Raiders are the poster child for a losing culture. No matter what players the Raiders draft or acquire in free agency, no matter what coach they hire or what new quarterback they install, they still stink. (Yes, I am a Raiders fan.) The losing culture is so entrenched and so powerful that it cannot be overcome. At least not yet. (Jon Gruden, are you listening?)
But let’s get back to ourselves as artists and entrepreneurs. We too have cultures.
Internal personal cultures.
These cultures are identical to institutional cultures except they’re one-person versions, and they exist entirely within our own heads.
Like institutional cultures these personal cultures consist of our histories; our records of success or failure; our assumptions about ourselves and the world; our expectations, fears, and hopes; our methodologies, our skills, and so forth.
One element is common however to all cultures, personal and institutional.
That element is Resistance.
Cultures evolve in response to Resistance.
Successful cultures overcome Resistance. Unsuccessful cultures are overcome by Resistance.
Where do cultures come from?
We breathe them in from birth—our national culture, our religious culture, our ethnic culture. These form our baseline. Over these, specific and unique organizational and personal cultures become overlain.
If you were born and raised in the American consumer society you have already, whether you realize it or not, imbibed and internalized an extremely insidious, pernicious, and toxic personal culture.
Where did this Toxic Culture come from? From well-meaning parents and positively-intentioned teachers, from traditional role models such as Congress, the President, the Supreme Court (stop me if you’ve heard this before). This toxic culture consists of consumerism, conformity, faux “liberation” and the affectation of self-conscious “irony,” from the values implicit in the prescription of Adderal and Ritalin; from political correctness; gangsta and wannabe-gangsta self-conception and presentation; from “self-esteem;” narcissism, shallowness, laziness, lack of work ethic, pursuit of external stimulation; from entitlement, worship of celebrity, instant gratification, nerd culture, self-indulgence, flight from adversity, pursuit of third-party validation, etc.
This is the mass culture that you and I inhale from movies, TV, pop music, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s the sea we swim in. We can see it no more than a flounder can see the Pacific Ocean.
This culture has to go. It must be eradicated by you and me and replaced, component by component, by an internally-originated, self-generated and self-approved personal culture.
How do institutions change their cultures? They bring in a new boss.
Phil Jackson resurrected the Lakers; that’s why he was hired last year by the New York Knicks. Pete Carroll re-invented the Seattle Seahawks. Raider fans are fantasizing about Jon Gruden.
What qualities does a new boss or coach bring?
First, he brings a history of success. He comes in as a winner (because he has won in the past), and he carries with him the plausible hope that he can turn this team of losers around too.
The new coach brings personal charisma and magnetism; he brings force of personality.
The new coach has a vision of what the team can be.
And he has a system to make that turnaround happen.
(My own theory is that the content of the new coach’s system is basically meaningless. Any system will work as long as the team believes in it.)
Which brings us to the most critical component of any cultural turnaround: achieving buy-in.
The new coach has to get the team to buy into the new system. More than that, he has to get them to buy into the idea that they can turn themselves and the team around—that they can win.
I know you know what I’m going to say next.
You and I are that new coach.
We are that team of losers.
We have to come in to ourselves with a new system and a new belief about the future, and we have to, somehow, get ourselves to buy into it.
Our assignment, like that of any new boss or coach, is to overhaul the organization (i.e., ourselves), strip it down to its basics, redefine its mission, its goals, its virtues and its vices. We have to fire every part of ourselves that can’t or won’t get onboard the new mission and we have to achieve buy-in from all the other parts that we have allowed to remain with the franchise. When Pete Carroll took over the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, he and team GM John Schneider made something like 250 personnel changes in the first four years. They got rid of everyone who didn’t fit with their new vision for the team and they brought in players who did.
That’s what you and I need to do in our own interior locker room and practice field.
What is our purpose? Have we ever sat down and thought about it?
Why are we doing what we’re doing? We need to answer this question.
What are we trying to accomplish? A hit album? The girl/guy of our dreams? Do we know?
How do we intend to get there? What’s our system? Do we have one?
I’m serious. This stuff has to be thought about.
For decades my own world-view, if I had possessed the self-awareness to articulate it, was characterized by Resistance-generated despair. Life is meaningless. Nothing significant is possible. The universe will blow up one day, so what’s the point?
The breakthrough for me came with the realization, one day, that I was ambitious. Existential ennui (and the paralysis of aspiration that followed from it) was really not my bottom line. It was just an excuse I was using to keep from admitting that I had ambition and to prevent myself from risking failure by committing myself to pursue my dreams.
Do you have a vision for yourself as an artist and an entrepreneur? Do you have a goal? A system to get you there? Can you believe in yourself as the coach, leader, and champion of this new, reinvigorated regime? Can you fire the parts of yourself that can’t or won’t buy in to your new system? Can you bring in new players who will?