Are you a potato bug?

I started reading The Goal tonight while I was at a Starbucks waiting for someone.

I love books like this because they get me thinking. My thought tonight is: how far along am I on the evolutionary scale?

First, consider the lowly potato bug. What’s the key characteristic of a potato bug? You poke it and it rolls up in a little armadillo-like ball. It’s REACTIVE. It does its thing, day after day, but aside from what you might call its autonomic functions, it’s essentially a reaction-only creature. Have you had days where you felt like a potato bug? Constant interruptions, dealing with crises, fighting fires, your boss has an emergency that you have to deal with right now, you misplace your keys, your son or daughter skin their knee…you end up at the end of the day exhausted and probably not feeling very productive at all.  There is this odd sense one gets now and then about confronting and overcoming a particularly thorny crisis, but it’s like a sugar rush: temporary and probably not very good for you in the long run.

Second, consider the dog. He has some more independent thinking going on than the potato bug: so many things to smell! So many sights! Sounds! Frisbee! Ball! Chew Toy! Another dog’s butt! But the dog, although he can make choices, doesn’t start out his walk thinking he’d like to accomplish anything in particular. He’d led where his nose takes him, constantly distracted by the next shiny new thing. I’d argue a lot of us spend a lot more time than we’d like to admit in this mode, which I’ll call DISTRACTED. Surf much internet? Read much e-mail? You’ve been there. With Web 2.0, blogging, Facebook, (god forbid) Twitter, and their 1,000,000 clones, you can easily lose a whole day getting nothing done in particular.

Then there’s the human. You. Yes, you. You have the capability to set goals, to decide what’s important, to focus, to delay gratification, to make sacrifices if necessary. You can evaluate pros and cons, weigh consequences, mentally rehearse planned actions, predict likely outcomes. You can build upon every previous sensory input, every piece of knowledge you’ve gained, every intuition you have, to build a model of how to make the next day hour minute as productive and fulfilling as can be imagined. You can be PROACTIVE. You have all the possibilities in the world open to you because of that three-pound, 100-billion-neuron miracle of nature that sits between your ears.

Do you take advantage of that? Or are you spending most of your days as a potato bug or a dog?


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