I’m not one inclined to read much that would be considered self-improvement or inspirational literature, much less write about it. So it came as something of a surprise when I found myself comforted and encouraged by the message of an article by Roger Pulvers in The Japan Times from last Sunday. He described attempts to put a pulse on why young Japanese had seemingly lost the innovative spark that characterized the movers and shakers of post WWII Japan development. He arrives at one cause (of many, but perhaps one of the more important) – that students now are conditioned to stick only to a straight and narrow path of study that will lead them to secure employment in a mainstream industry or profession. This is more or less the opposite of Steve Jobs’ message about connecting the dots, given to the 2005 graduating class of Stanford University. Pulvers explains Jobs’ point was that without meandering from interest to interest, collecting a broad range of knowledge and experiences over time, all driven by one’s affinity for the topics, one would not have the opportunity or ability to put unrelated things together and form a big picture. Jobs’ big picture created the Macintosh computer and Apple enterprise. Pulvers concludes with his own interpretation: “You cannot connect the dots before they are cast and planted. They can only be connected later. Be frivolous and unfocused. That may be just what eventually leads you to discovering your own personal human potential.”
I think I needed to hear that, especially given where I left off in last week’s post, in which I started trying to put boundaries around the areas of interest that will comprise my long-term professional goals. Having identified extremely broad topic areas around culture and sustainability, my thoughts quickly shifted to how I would make them more delineated and concrete. I started to consider that this would still leave much too broad a scope for me to create a product or service based on them, and eventually I would need to narrow the field down to a select few. Then I found Pulvers’ article. I realized I was “limiting my dots” before I had even begun to allow time for them to propagate.
I thought back to what had been the initial seed of my idea that a lifestyle that embodies efficiency and sustainable consumption could be rooted in culture. It was the messages about human relationships to the land and consequences of unchecked pollution in Miyazaki’s animated film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which I’ve recently started exploring deeper through the manga (comic book) version. Something that might have started out as frivolous has become something that is decidedly not.
So, going forward I vow to be a little more self-indulgent, capricious and not get so hung up on whether the things I choose to spend my time studying could be considered in a professional context or not. At least, until I think I have enough dots.