The new year is upon us and with it comes the usual indulgence of introspection (something I thoroughly encourage) and planning for a better year than perhaps the one that just preceded it. Whilst I am on the record for my harsh assessment of New Year’s Resolutions, it is difficult to avoid slipping into that mindset. So rather than passing it off as something entirely negative, we should in fact look for what we can draw positively from it. In this regard I offer two things: 1) embracing goals and 2) a focus for helping you stay the path in achieving those same goals.
There is enough on the Internet (and our website/blog) to satisfy the first point, so my intention in this post is to offer something addressing the second point: something for you to perhaps ponder as you go about your activities each day to remind you of why you are doing what you are doing. Just as a coach at half time in an intense contest needs to deliver a clear and simple message, so too would I like to humbly offer you something distilled into a small phrase that eliminates and separates from the clutter that constitutes the information that flows in and out of our lives each day. That simple phrase is: “Function or form?”
At the risk of becoming somewhat a reductionist that is re-purposing the classical architectural concept of the blend of form and function to make beautiful buildings, I do think it is very worthwhile to see how this concept applies to our every day lives. We make hundreds if not thousands of decisions every day, many of which aren’t even entirely conscious ones. However, for those that are and for those that matter to our long term wellbeing we should ask ourselves:
“Am I doing this to better serve my true interests, goals, values and welfare?” (Function)
“Am I doing this to look good?” (Form).
At first glance it almost seems as if the two alternatives don’t fairly represent either end of the spectrum, so perhaps it could help if I were to add some variations to the latter (Form):
Am I doing this to:
- appear more than what I am?
- impress others?
- avoid being embarrassed?
- rule out any chance of failure?
- keep up with the Jones’
- further myself at the expense of someone else?
- take more than I give?
- fit in with the crowd?
- satisfy my ego?
- cover up my lack of substance?
- enhance my status?
Whether we like to admit it or not, Form (in the context of this post) often comes at the expense of Function. It doesn’t just rest with us either. Society, through its institutions, constantly offers us Form over Function and we are all too happy to allow it. In fact, we often demand it. Need convincing? Try this for a sample:
- Politicians are elected to 2-4 year terms and are expected to do something for our long term futures yet if they don’t meet our populist and fickle short term interests we vote them out.
- CEOs live and die by the sword that is known as the share price, yet time and again we are reminded by people like Warren Buffet that share prices very often do NOT represent the true value of the company and are far too short term in nature.
- Celebrities cover our online news pages and multiple magazines, yet we know full well reading about their latest plastic surgery does little to develop our own lives. And yet, these magazines are what we consume more than anything else.
- Politicians from opposing parties will consistently and reliably disagree with everything the opposing party suggests. Is it even remotely possible that they disagree on absolutely everything? Or are we more comfortable with them lying to us to maintain the “us vs them” paradigm. At what point in our history did this become not just tolerated but expected and accepted?
- More and more advertising is directed to us focusing on Form (status, differentiation, appearance, image) than Function (what real value it actually brings to us). Have we really become that superficial in our collective affluence?
- We spend hours on Twitter and Facebook (to name just two) each day in aid of what? Being informed? Is that really the information we need to be consuming so fervently?
So what does this mean for you and your year ahead? Well, I think it is quite simple. Be conscious of your actions and your motivations. Do you want to bring value into your life? Or do you want mediocrity? The path to mediocrity is well trod and it is filled with those who chose Form. But the path to true value has never changed. It has always been there, sometimes barren and sometimes inhospitable, but nevertheless, it remains always asking us to take up the challenge.
So in the midst of the chaos of our lives that is about ensue for another 12 months, perhaps this is something you can contemplate and decide upon each day when you wake up:
Am I going to choose Form? Or am I ready to choose Function?
The choice is yours. Life is waiting.