Friday, September 19, 2008

Just in case you might be thinking you can't make a difference

Hello from Los Angeles!

Am staying with the ultra-marvelous Libby Gill, who has an amazing way of coaching and getting right down to the a-ha that flings possibility doors wide open. (You should have seen her in action with me yesterday morning. In just five minutes, she led me off an analysis paralysis path, much to the delight of everyone working with me on getting Engagement Journeys finally on its feet (more on that in the fullness of time). ) If you're looking for a coach or an amazingly inspiring speaker on risk taking, leadership, or branding, she's the one you want. (And read her book, Traveling Hopefully.)

I've been in California for two weeks doing initial interviews for a blown-out web version of HR Journeys (more on that later as well). And I have to take this moment to thank my initial, brave, pioneering sponsor Tom Larkin, of The Larkin Company, who is helping me get this dream off the ground. My dream: To help high-potential HR professionals -- you know, the ones who feel called to the field -- gain a full understanding of the entire personal/professional journey that comes with signing onto this life's work.

So. In the two weeks I've been here, two items have hit the news, which creates today's subject: The difference that individuals can make in a twinkling. First the bummer difference: Tucked in among the headlines of Hurricane Ike, the stock market, Freddie and Fannie, AIG, and Where's Caylee? has been the terrible news of a commuter train crash here in LA. Over 130 people were hurt; 25 lost their lives. What was the engineer doing right before the accident? Text messaging. Investigators are still reluctant to point the finger at the engineer and texting before the full investigation is complete, but it's not looking good.

A few months ago CA passed legislation banning text messaging while driving. I was visiting friends here at that time and marveled at who would be stupid enough to text while driving. My friend looked at me sheepishly and said, "I do." She's a corporate executive. Uh oh, back pedal, I told myself. But I still didn't get it. Fast forward to this trip I'm on right now, I have gotten in the habit of checking my emails while waiting at traffic lights. And, if I'm in the middle of replying when the light turns green? Well, no biggee, what will it hurt if I just drive a little slowly for a few secs until I click send?

Yesterday I was so distracted by my emails while pulling out of a parking lot that I forgot to release the parking brake and drove 35 miles down the Pacific Coast highway with the brake on. What's that squealing of metal against metal I kept asking myself as I was thumbing my Ipod click-wheel in search of a specific song among 7,000. Those darn trucks, I continued contemptuously. Then I noticed the red light on my dashboard, and realized that I'd been watching that red light for miles. Duh.

Just a little text here and there won't hurt, right? After all, we're all just one individual. How much damage can one individual do? A burned out parking brake is nothing to the burnt wreckage of 25 lives and their families. So I guess I better take that parking brake as a gift.

So here's the more inspiring take on the difference one individual can make: You probably remember the story of the 13-year-old boy with autism who swam too far out off a Florida beach and got caught up in the currents. His father went after him, and before they both realized what was happening, they were swept out to sea. Two tiny specks of humanity dressed in nothing but sunny-day swim trunks bobbing in the waves for 15 hours. The sun went down, the moon and stars came out and they still treaded blackened water under the pin-prick bowl of constellations, galaxies and satellites. Even though the father couldn't see the son after a while, they kept in voice contact by trading favorite movie lines.

One of which was from Toy Story. The father would holler into the black night: "To infinity!" And somewhere embedded deep inside the pillowy waves, a little boy's voice would respond: "And beyond" And they did that all night long.

There are so many ways to tell this story, but here's the one that especially speaks to me. A decade ago there was a young story supervisor having a very good time at work at Pixar. In a moment of genius he came up with this fantastic line. At the time it was just a fun line in a way fun movie. And, as an upstart business, Pixar's prospects were looking pretty darn good with such delights that were springing from the minds of a bunch of wacky creative types.

I know the guy who headed Pixar's HR department at the time, and emailed him the story of the father and son. And then said, "Can you pass this story on to the guy who came up with the line?"

His response: "I think the gentleman who came up with that line was Joe Ranft, Story Supervisor on most of the early big hits of Pixar but we unfortunately lost him in a car accident just before I left Pixar. He was also the voice of Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug's Life."

Once upon a time there was a guy sitting at a desk in California who came up with four simple words that would save two lives in Florida ten years later. And, even though he's gone, his story continues.

One person can make a huge difference, in a twinkling blink of an eye.

I'm reminded of the Jackson Browne song, For a Dancer, in which he is encouraging the listener to follow his/her heart because that will lead to destiny. The concluding lines are these:

Into a dancer you have grown...
From a seed somebody else has thrown.
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own.
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you'll never know.


Sandee Valle said...

This story touched my heart in a big way. I had the great and humbling opportunity to work with Joe Ranft before he died doing VO work on the CARS games for several months.

Joe said something to me during that time as I had just lost my youngest son in a car accident. I dropped him off at the airport in Burbank so that he could fly home to his family, and as he hugged me goodbye, he said "I can't imagine ever losing one of my children. But I do know this-that you have to trust the process. Trust the process"

Ironically, the world lost Joe shortly after that in a car accident as well, but I have always trusted the process ever since. It helped me to manage my grief and look forward to a future without my son, and then to a world without Joe Ranft.

A few years later, I now believe that the "process" Joe nudged me to trust includes tremendous loss. But it's that sort of loss that drives us to become better people and to open our eyes and hearts, and to see what joy we really have in front of us all the time.

Outside of creating memorable characters and telling amazing stories through animated movies, Joe made a significant difference in a personal way that most people will never know-with just a few simple words.

Thank-you Joe Ranft.
And I always trust the process.

~Sandee Valle, Sr. Producer
The Walt Disney Company

Libby Gill said...

Thanks for the kind words, Martha. As for making a difference, you do that every day with your dedication to helping HR professionals make a difference in the personal and professional lives of those they serve! xo

Martha said...

Hi Sandee: I hope you get this comment message...your email brought tears to my eyes. "Trust the process." I'll never forget that. Thank you for adding your story. I'll tell Ed to take a look. (Hoping to see him next week.)