The Sorrows and Joys of the Bulldozer

Photo credit: Vinoth Chandar (flickr: vinothchandar)

We hear a lot of hype about ideas. “Ideas can change the world”.  Right.

“Ideas can move mountains”. Ideas don’t move mountains, Peter Drucker reminds us, bulldozers do.  Ideas just tell the bulldozers where to go.

Know what this means?  I’ll tell you:

Do you fancy yourself a bulldozer? You’d better.

If you have a lot of goals, there’s a good chance that– like me– you’re an “ideas person“.  Your notion of the perfect job is to sit back and do nothing but come up with all the next brilliant ideas in your chosen field.  You love discussing, debating, and especially thinking of new ideas.  You place a high premium on interesting.

There’s a problem with that, though.  Ideas are cheap.  Worthless, almost.  What’s your most ambitious goal?  Oh, to start your own business?  That’s cute!  Do you know how many people could have had that idea of a goal?  Do you know how many do?  The idea of starting your own business does nothing to change the world, and only a bit to change you.  My father always said “Doesn’t cost anything more to dream first class“.  Nifty ideas are traded with dimes.  Moving mountains takes top buck.

Let’s go back to Drucker’s metaphor: bulldozers are moving the mountain.  I like this.  It’s a good, down-to-Earth analogy.  We can stretch it a bit and it still holds.  We look at the bulldozer and keep learning more about the movers of mountains, physical and metaphorical.

If you want to accomplish a large goal– something rare and valuable and requiring a lot of work– then you need to be a bulldozer.  Do you recognize this?  And what’s more– do you glory in it?  See, you will need to be a bulldozer for a long time– perhaps the majority of the project.  For us ideas people, that can hurt.  But bulldozers– and, by extension, us– have some things going for them.  Bulldozers have some glory too.

  • Bulldozers are powerful machines.  We’re beautifully and wonderfully made, says the the Book of Psalms.  I believe it.  The beauty of a bulldozer is in lifting the unliftable– only one scoop at a time, though (let’s not get out of hand).  But that’s what we do too.  Stop and consider it– we are good and strong.
  • Bulldozers see progress every day.  No building is raised in a day, but if you do it right, you can still see progress every day.
  • Bulldozers are the only way to do it.  Every day on my way to the bus, I pass by a construction site.  Right now, it’s at the point where some bulldozers have dug a 20-foot hole the size of a medium commercial building.  This has taken a while, but you know what?  There’s no better way.  They’re in a city— they can’t use dynamite.  And even the John Henry of shovelin’ dirt wouldn’t make for an interesting competition.  A bulldozer doesn’t have it easy, but bulldozing is the only way to get it done.

Life’s rough for the bulldozer.  The bulldozer has to repeat itself.  It has to lift heavy stuff.  When it’s done, a thousand people will pass by and hardly one will think of the bulldozer.  And then, only by chance, and half of them, only to complain at the ugliness of the building.

Remember why you’re bulldozing– because it’s worthwhile.

When a group of us in Seattle decided to start the Finishing School, we realized that the name was a triple-entrendre of sorts.  First, it was the name of schools that trained upper-class girls to be ready to enter high society.  Second, it references achievement as a kind of memento mori— finish your life goals before you finish your life.  But third, and most importantly here, it refers to finishing goals.

Dreaming is cheap.  Starting is easy (starting tonight is less easy).  Continuing on when the muse has dumped you is tough.

And finishing is toughest.

That’s what the Finishing School is about.  That’s what this blog is about.

If you want to do something big and important, your rewards will be the rewards of the bulldozer and your punishments will be the punishments of the bulldozer.  Forewarned is forearmed.


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