Airplanes have auto-pilot. Cars are getting closer to self-driving. In fact, I just saw a headline about a police officer pulling over a self-driving Google car (not sure who gets the ticket in that situation).
As Aldous Huxley said in his 1931 book, it’s a brave new world.
Auto-pilot and self-driving systems have one thing in common: they know where they’re going. Actually, the systems don’t know. The operator who is (ostensibly) in control knows the starting point, and the destination.
Real life doesn’t work that way.
There are no self-driving:
Friendships. We don’t know when a new friendship will start, we surely don’t know where it’s going, and we hope it never ends. The journey is what makes it so good. Have you put any of your friendships in self-drive mode? It’s a conscious decision, even when you act like you didn’t notice. Here’s the good news. In most friendships, you can switch out of self-drive mode and restart the journey. Your only decision is when to flip that switch.
Projects. We usually know when a project starts, and when it’s supposed to end. We have plans, resources, and our schedules. We (should) know what defines success in a project, and what the end result needs to be. That’s all the ingredients a project needs to switch to auto-pilot. Right? Not so fast! Show me a project that’s out of control, off schedule, costing more than expected, and I’ll show you a project that went on auto-pilot while nobody was looking.
Parenting. We know when parenting starts, and that’s about it. Parents understand that every day with their kids is an adventure. It’s an adventure they hope never ends. There are days when they’d like to go on auto-pilot, but those are the days when they should be most engaged.
Companies. It doesn’t matter what size they are, or how long they’ve been around. If people inside a company start to “mail it in,” stop caring, assume someone else is asking the tough questions, assume someone else is making the hard choices; that’s the beginning of the end. It may take some time, but the end is baked-in the moment self-drive mode is engaged. It’s just a question of when, and it’s never pretty when the end arrives.
Marriages. We certainly know when marriages begin. Sadly, some marriages have ended, yet the people involved don’t even realize it. Why? Self-drive. One or both have engaged the self-drive button and decided that they’re just along for the ride. Only together can a married couple steer, accelerate, hit the brakes, seek out new routes, find shortcuts, or just enjoy the scenery. It takes constant work, endless attention, and unending love to share this most important steering wheel. There’s no room for self-drive in the front seat of a marriage.
Self-drive may seem easier, but its sole focus is the start and the end. These are only two points on the journey.
The part in the middle is the real reward. Engage self-drive and you will miss it.