Friction and Polished Things

My wife creates her own type of polished rocks. (Image: Shawn Ward, Instagram, Hi-FI filter with Tilt Shift layer)

I have an incredible opportunity to put myself in front of some of the best thinkers in my organization on a regular basis. It’s a blessing, a lot of hard work, and worth every minute. One of those people I’ve worked with and for, going on 8 years. She regularly channels things that are profound, challenge you, and make you change. This past week was one of those times.

“Sorry, but not sorry,” she would often say as you come out the other end changed and better than you were just moments before. She was sorry that this was going to sting, but not sorry I had to go through it because it was what I needed to grow. She regularly creates friction amongst her teams. It’s healthy friction. An incredible amount at just the right times. Friction that makes us one of the top teams on this planet.

This experience I was able to participate in last week jogged a memory of a video and story I had heard before. A favorite of mine has always been the parable of stones that Steve Jobs describes from 1995 in the “lost interview” from a PBS Special “Triumph of the Nerds.”

We often make the mistake thinking having like minded people, people like us, is the way to hire or create a team. We have a regular distortion field around our thoughts, that if we’re not self aware, can really set us on a path to fail. You want people with different views, beliefs, and thoughts to bump off of you. When you get it right, the process is always magic.

Rarely has it failed me or my team when I or we’ve been able to bring a group together with a great diversity of thought to make something big and ground breaking. In fact, I do it as often as I can. It’s incredibly hard to control those energies though and sometimes I wonder if I can make it. Then something incredible happens.

Below is the narrative from Jobs himself in a teaser of sorts. The actual PBS special in its entirety is worth it on any lazy Saturday night or Sunday afternoon when you get the chance to just watch. You don’t even have to watch it, just listen to it. You will find yourself taking notes. You won’t be able to help it.

The narrative below is just a small portion of the entire 70 minutes. But, for me, one of the many best parts.

The narrative and parable of the stones:

“Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it’s that process that is the magic.

And so we had a lot of great ideas when we started [the Mac]. But what I’ve always felt that a team of people doing something they really believe in is like is like when I was a young kid there was a widowed man that lived up the street. He was in his eighties. He was a little scary looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he may have paid me to mow his lawn or something.

And one day he said to me, “come on into my garage I want to show you something.” And he pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, “come on with me.” We went out into the back and we got just some rocks. Some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and little bit of grit powder, and we closed the can up and he turned this motor on and he said, “come back tomorrow.”

And this can was making a racket as the stones went around.

And I came back the next day, and we opened the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in, through rubbing against each other like this (clapping his hands), creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had come out these beautiful polished rocks.

That’s always been in my mind my metaphor for a team working really hard on something they’re passionate about. It’s that through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together they polish each other and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these really beautiful stones.” – Steve Jobs

😮 WOW. Some of my best output, has always been from “bumping into others” who are as passionate about something as I was, but saw it in a completely different way. Wonderful arguments that ensued that once over, created some of best beliefs that to this day many years later still hold true.

Here’s a teaser trailer (1 minute 29 seconds) that might make you interested in the whole thing:

As always, keep me honest. Share. Anything you want. Just share. Thanks for the views. It is never about the likes. I just want you to change. You might still be bumping around in that tumbler and that is totally okay. You’re not polished yet. But, at least you’re in the tumbler. Rub off on someone, create your own friction!


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