Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Why the Raiders Suck

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:

Personal culture.

Gruden

Jon Gruden. Could Chucky turn Al Davis' franchise around?

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?

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

40 Responses to “Why the Raiders Suck”

  1. October 15, 2014 at 5:34 am

    Great article Mr. Pressfield. I agree with this 100%

    Go Chiefs!

  2. Nik
    October 15, 2014 at 5:45 am

    Great job as always, Steve, but I’ve gotta nitpick about the Phil Jackson bit. To me, as a long-suffering, die-hard Knicks fan, it says volumes that Jackson signed on as GM, but wouldn’t take the coaching job. He’s coming into an existing culture of dysfunction under a CEO (James Dolan) who is notorious for meddling and disregarding the advice of the very people he hired to make expert, informed basketball decisions.

    One of Jackson’s first acts as GM was to re-sign Carmelo Anthony, the undisputed king of NBA losing cultures and posterboy for selfish play, and it’s only a matter of time before Dolan usurps Jackson’s power as GM and forces the team into some ill-conceived trade or coaching change.

    If that happens, and history says it almost certainly will, then Jackson can slink away, blame his failed tenure on Dolan (though not in so many words), and escape with his vaunted coaching record intact. No harm, no foul, except for the fans.

    • October 15, 2014 at 6:28 am

      That’s one way to look at it. But the little voice telling Mello to fogo hitting the open man, and clank another low-percentage jumper off the back of the rim is pure resistance. Jackson will deliver that message.

      • Nik
        October 15, 2014 at 7:22 am

        Mike I hope you’re right, it’s just that after watching him on the Knicks these past four years, and knowing he hasn’t changed since his days in Denver, I really don’t have any hope. It’s the old “fool me once…”

        Jackson already failed trying to get Melo to take a significant pay cut so the team could bring in more talent. Melo has no incentive to listen to Jackson and become more of a team player, because he’s already got his contract. And he’s pretty much untradeable unless the Knicks want to eat most of that contract.

        I don’t see “Resistance” so much as I see a guy who is going to make millions regardless of whether he evolves as a player or not.

        And my money is still on Dolan usurping Jackson’s power as GM at some point in the future. Whether it happens sooner or later depends on how bad the Knicks are from the get-go.

      • Nik
        October 15, 2014 at 7:26 am

        One more thing, and then I’ll drop this tangent: Even though I’m a native New Yorker and long-time Knicks fan, these past few years I’ve had a lot more fun watching teams like the Clippers, Rockets and Miami.

        Yep, the Clippers haven’t won a damn thing. But it really is entertaining and beautiful watching a guy like Chris Paul run an offense, whereas the Knicks and Carmelo are consistently painful to watch. It’s just bad basketball.

        But like I said, I hope I’m wrong and you’re right. After this Yankees season, those of us in New York could use a little sports positivity.

  3. Mary Doyle
    October 15, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Thanks for another terrific post Steve!

  4. October 15, 2014 at 6:07 am

    As a writer, there are an enormous number of places to spend my time.

    I fully realize that choosing those places – to write, to comment, to participate in discussions – affects my ability to find readers for my work.

    I think that’s part of the fun.

  5. Michael Hull
    October 15, 2014 at 6:09 am

    Great Post…using this.

  6. Jack Hovenier
    October 15, 2014 at 6:14 am

    Steven,

    I’ve been following you a long time. Maybe the best post I’ve read. The comments and description about the american consumerism sea we swim in is pure gold, absolutely true and eloquently described. Thank you for setting a goal to publish this regular column and sharing it. You are paying it forward, educating, inspiring and making a difference.

    Thanks,

    Jack

  7. October 15, 2014 at 7:09 am

    Well told.

    Here at the micro level of a single lifetime, it looks like we’re here to survive, procreate, and have a little fun. Hence the empty culture. And don’t rock the boat, baby, don’t rock the boat. But at the macro level, we’re here to evolve or die trying.

    For an artist it means struggling with a craft to create something new, something meaningful enough to nudge the culture in a new direction. For all of us, it means (as you say) doing the work — the big-brain-mammal equivalent of crawling out of the primordial mud and staking a claim on a piece of dry land.

    Thank you for today’s post. We needed a wake-up call, a call to do better. We needed to know we’re not here just to dick around and die.

    • Autumn
      October 15, 2014 at 7:24 am

      What Jack said. :)

      Thank you!

      (I love this as a personal sound bite: “evolve or die trying”).

  8. October 15, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Thank you for another wonderful and inspirational post.

    I gotta admit though – I am changing my thinking that “I am that team of losers”. I am not and never will be. May be I never write all the wonderful stories I plan and dream of. But thinking of myself as the problem for not writing them yet – only reduces my chances to ever do so.

    What if I told myself that I am that looser and my subconscious mind believes it? Will it then proceed to offer me the same inspirational ideas, when I sit down to write? Or will it offer me a Raiders kind of performance?

    I choose to believe that I am awesome until proven otherwise. Resistance is still there, and still needs to be fought with on a daily basis. But this is the first change that I choose – I am the winner, no matter what the outcome. So I will work to prove that and if the outcome is different – well at least I tried. That’s the kind of philosophy that helps me better.

    I would love to see a book from Steven on keeping the faith and making your life’s work that way … if he can see it as an inspiration and if it is at all in agreement with his views …

    • October 19, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      This was indeed a great article, it spoke so much about the resistance innate to all of us and how it gets into the ways of winning. A resistance culture is not the only hindrance to winning, but also the decision culture. The issue of culture is also a determinant in deciding whether you become a winner or a loser, but you may have to identify what kind of culture you have and manage that culture. Sometimes winning or losing is not necessarily a culture based ingredient and you may want to consider other factors such as: Talent, luck, draw, weather conditions, decision of choice or any other variance of preferences that can determine the result. A good decision of choice can lead to a bad result, and a bad decision of choice can lead to a good result. You can have a culture of deciding when all you need sometimes is no decision at all. The formula to win is to do the work, have faith and trust your luck and hope that laws of universe are aligned in your favor to the given situation.

  9. Jackson Sandland
    October 15, 2014 at 7:20 am

    Steve,

    There are going to be some permanent layoffs in my interior culture.

    • October 15, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Jackson,
      Love it. Succinctly put, crystal clear.
      bsn

  10. October 15, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Steve,
    I love it. Sports analogies are the clearest to me. I have been thinking about this topic for some time, trying to find the right words for my own understanding.

    I just finished Carrol’s “Winning Forever”, and stumbled upon something that I thought was both interesting and motivating.

    Pete Carroll did not come up with his Philosophy until after he had been fired by the Patriots. He was 49. You frequently write about the ‘decades as an amateur’ before opting to turn pro.

    In all that you’ve written–my guess in the time between the dream you had with a clean room (when you realized you had ambition) to finishing your first novel–was another decade…at least.

    Self Awareness leads to Self Regulation–but it can take a while.

    My point? I have a tendency to look back with regret, Resistance enjoys beating me up for ‘wasted time’ and ‘it is too late’.

    The process of chipping away all the stone to realize the internal ‘David’ inside us is a lifetime’s work.

    Both you and Pete Carroll have given the world your best when you were both in your 5th decade of life and beyond.

    This is no ‘overnight fix’.

    All of this is what I’ve been calling the “Road to Character & Authenticity”. It is willfully choosing to drop the Easy Button, and subject ourselves to difficult, challenging situations. Master the mind, master the body, then master a craft–so that we are capable of giving to the world what we are here to do.

    Until we melt the dross, everything we create is infused with ego, selfishness, fear, lust. It is tainted. That is not what the world, nor we need ourselves.

    We need pure gold–but the process of alchemy takes a lifetime.

    Our culture inhibits the process. It deadens the ambition with distraction. Porn of all kinds–news porn, food porn, distraction porn, social media porn.

    It is hard to focus on anything long-term when we’re watching porn.

    Love the post, love the site, love the comments.
    bsn

    • Amos
      October 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      roger that

  11. October 15, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Am I the only one that got a little nervous thinking my name was gonna pop up in that Toxic Culture paragraph? Wow, no shots held back on this Wednesday! That tough love is needed from time to time.

    Steve, how long do I have to fight Resistance before gaining those types of cojones?! Salute, my friend.

    • October 15, 2014 at 9:21 am

      Alex,
      I’ve been asking myself the same question. When? When will I get there? I think the answer is there is no there there.

      My best guess is that it is somewhere after a decade of shedding/snarling/fighting/winning/losing/ups & downs. Siddhartha spent a lifetime before he recognized the river for what it was. Sad truth of the human condition.

      My solace is that this blog is one of the indicators that at least my cardinal direction is correct–no matter the numbers in my win/loss columns.
      bsn

      • October 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm

        Thanks for the words Brian. I know what you mean. I’ve realized progress is so gradual that we often don’t notice it in ourselves. Someone else usually has to point it out before we notice.

  12. October 15, 2014 at 9:41 am

    As an original Saints fan – I was in the stands when John Gilliam ran the opening kickoff of their first game back for a touchdown, I can sympathize. Sean Payton did that here, and it can be said thanks in part to his leadership and that of Drew Brees, the city itself overcame lots of Resistance and refused to see itself as a loser – which is why New Orleans is still here and moving forward.

    The Toxic Culture you talk about does not arise by spontaneous generation. There are those who benefit from it, who are agents of Resistance (though they would not characterize themselves as such). They promote the Toxicity, in almost Sauron-like fashion.

    All the more reason to be the “Frodos” of the world. We are not losers. That’s another part of the Toxic Culture: the more it makes us think we are “with it,” that we are winners, the more we are in fact losers. (For example, see advertising aimed at women. And insidious as that is, it’s not the worst.)

    Thanks

  13. October 15, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Love this! Great metaphor, and it works on so many different levels. Need me a new coach!! Thanks, Steven.

  14. Alexis
    October 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Steve, this was a fantastic post! I’ve already made my list of questions–What is our purpose, Have we ever sat down and thought about it, “Why are we doing what we’re doing, What are we trying to accomplish,” etc. The two questions I didn’t have an answer for were, “How do I intend to get there?” and, “What’s my system?” Answers: “I don’t know yet,” and “I don’t know yet.” How do we create systems when a lifetime of resistance has avoided them?
    ak

  15. October 15, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Steve,
    yet again a wonderful article on personal culture.
    I am waiting to get my Authentic Swing copy.

  16. October 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Steve, it never fails how the timing of particular posts seem to be what I need to hear when I need to hear it. Not long after reading The War of Art, I went indie with my manuscripts on Amazon. Within two months they took off eventually leading to me becoming an Amazon Top 100 Author in my genre. I’m writing like crazy and seeing the hard work pay off. Then Amazon made a bunch of changes some were announced, others were behind the scenes. Totally changed the way readers find books. My numbers took a hit and that left me scrambling – in other words – the loosing streak from hell hit and I couldn’t figure out which way to go. Then I read this post. Okay, time to fire the coach (me) and hire a new one (me).

    There is one thing I want to mention though. The coach’s system might be successful if everyone believes but how much more powerful is it if that system takes advantage of the teams strengths while minimizing it’s weaknesses?

    Thanks for the great post.
    Cheers,
    Kathryn

  17. October 15, 2014 at 10:46 am

    This is EXACTLY what Charlie Strong is trying to do with the University of Texas (Hook ‘Em!), and why he’s already dismissed 9 players. Cleaning house, baby.

    Great analogy to Resistance. You clever devil, you, Steven.

  18. October 15, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Steven IS a clever devil, isn’t he?

  19. Sonja
    October 15, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    As usual, you make me think! I have a lot of restructuring to do and a lot of questions that need answers. : )

  20. October 15, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    To continue Steve’s excellent sports analogy, maybe we writers should think in terms of the long distance runner?

    Back in the day I ran cross-country and track – and soon learned that I was going to be as good as my workouts made me. While the coach could motivate me thru repeat 440’s on the track, running a solo hard 10-15 miles on Saturday and/or Sunday came from me.

    The similarity to writing is very clear- success is up to me.

    (oh, if we could only bring back John Madden or Tom Flores…!)

  21. Ethan Maniquis
    October 15, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Great post, very helpful thank you. I agree with everything except the quote below

    “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.”

    I was born and raised in America and I have not internalized a toxic personal culture, that’s a broad generalization about a group of people, not much different than saying white people raised in Texas are a certain way, or black people from New Orleans are all a certain way. For a good writer, it’s pretty sloppy wrting

    • Sonja
      October 16, 2014 at 11:43 am

      I have to chime in because I understood exactly what he meant:

      Most Americans can’t fit their car in the garage because of TOO MUCH STUFF. We are bombarded by ads, and promises of an illusion of what our life should look like.

      I have kids and I see the excess at every birthday party we go to…

      You sound like you’re aware, but most of us have been tripped up, unconsciously, by this type of culture. Beyond keeping up with the Joneses: it’s seeing Facebook vacation photos, or twitter posts and comparing yourself. Since turning pro, I see it for what it is: a distraction from my work.

      Back to my manuscript….

  22. October 15, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Timely prescription. Just not sure how to climb up above the waves to see who of me isn’t doing her job so I can fire her!

  23. Patti
    October 15, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    I hate the sports analogy. But I love the post, reading between the lines. I need to scrub out my internal belief code and find a new system that works. Thank you for Wednesday writing, I look forward to it each week.

  24. October 15, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    This is a just awesome article.
    Ever since I read the War of Art, my perception regarding Resistance changed.
    And it literally changed my life.
    Thank you and looking forward next Wednesday.

    Sinecerly

    Jun

  25. Linda
    October 17, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I am surprised that you didn’t mention Rich Gannon’s comment about the Raiders and their “Commitment to Mediocrity”(I am a Raiders fan, too).

    That’s what resistance does to us–it makes us OK with losing, comfortable with being half-assed. No ambition to get over the pain and resistance that comes with having higher standards and possibly failing.

    I’m looking across the bay at the SF Giants and wondering what is going on there that is producing all those wins so consistently and in moments like the bottom of the ninth…I think everyone on that team is giving more than 100% and is a total PRO. Everyone there is committed to EXCELLENCE and committed to each other. No prima donnas. No lone wolves. Everyone is on the same page and is working for the same vision. Everyone is congruent.

    Resistance happens when you’re not congruent. You may spout the words but your thoughts, beliefs and actions aren’t following through.

  26. October 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Humans are storytellers and we define ourselves through those stories. I’m tired of living in other human’s stories.

  27. October 18, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    “Culture wins football. Culture will beat scheme everyday.”

    Chip Kelly, Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles

  28. Tony
    October 20, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    I love The War Of Art and Turning Pro. And this is a great blog. I am going to stop reading it now and do my work.

  29. October 20, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Water tight Steve, Thanks.
    I hate to be the cynic in the room, but it amazes me that such ancient wisdom needs to keep being revisited. Again and again we remind ourselves that we need to “be the change in the world.”

    It actually makes me worry that humans, in a basic form of predisposition, always gravitate towards the lessor. If left to our own devices we would slide back into some de-evolved state of existence?

    The “clear and distinct” and “self evident” philosophical ideal does not necessarily mean human, does it? Ugh…..

  30. Christine
    October 22, 2014 at 7:48 am

    The Canucks would be mad to hire back Tortorella unless he first went through a massive personal transformation.

    So I can fire my personal coach, but there’s no way I’m hiring her back until she’s metamorphosed into something useful.

    Instruction book please.