Driving on the left

Driving on the left side stretches the muscles, especially including the one in your head. When Larry Page named Google as Google’s biggest problem, he was talking as a leader not just of the search giant but of the whole industry. Anticipating the first Apple event since Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO, it feels good to see others step up to the task.

It’s not that any one of these leaders will fill that intuitive role. Jeff Bezos did it this week with his stunning price point, cloud browser, and clicks and mortar media streaming business. He’s not the only one, and neither is Marc Zuckerberg. But each in their own way are together shaping not just the technology business but the way we work together. And the answers are not easy or obvious.

I work for one of these leaders. Marc Benioff has always had the leader gene in him, in ways that I recognize from my days in the record business. It’s like those baby pictures of a child. At the time you’re taken with the innocent smile, the wide-eyed wonder and something that looks fragile but is only waiting for the information. Sometimes the information is delightful, sometimes a loud startling noise, but always the signature of what some call the soul. Years later, you look back at these pictures and you see that now-grown up teen or adult staring right out at you. In some way it’s not that they grow up, but we do.

I’ve seen the look in musicians in the studio, the purposeful relaxation that comes from working in the now. Listening yet knowing they are somehow born to get to that room at that time with those people who can play together. Collaboration is not an art, but getting there is. And once there, staying there. It’s a supple balance, living in that sharing space. Zuckerberg seems to understand what it should look like. Bezos seems to understand how the world can have an Apple and have room for more. Benioff understands the rhythm of the place, the surging of the business instantiating the resources for the next round of validating inspiration.

On the ground next to these guys, it’s exhilarating in a way that gives way to an appreciation for how difficult it is to harness the minds and souls necessary to do big things. Like a fractal fragment, you can see in your own role the same structures, blockers, ideas, and moments of humor that carry you and the team forward. These social media tools can be understood for their value to our enterprise, but they also can provide the musical constructs that keep us coming back for more. These leaders, in differing ways and amounts, are writing the score of this time we’re in. Songs with no chorus, songs with codas and shifts in rhythm, the magic of the bridge that never returns.

We don’t get confused by more than one leader in the business that used to be called music. Coltrane stood next to Miles, and Dylan and Harrison and Lenny and Winehouse. Some survived and some didn’t, but who they were and are is timeless. Hendrix sounds like a live stream, like the notes can be the same and the intervals the same and the blues the same and yet it keeps growing like it’s busy being born.

Driving on the left is complicated by the lack of context; you aren’t yet comfortable with the intuition you’ve grown used to, the sense of danger and limits, of detaching from the road with the illusion that you’re the only mind you need to tend. The signs are the hardest part, crossing over from right to left brain or whichever it is, from the rhythm of the road to the logic of the structure, the mission of the directions, the choices that loom and then are replaced by recalculation and another rush to that same decision point. But as you collide with not enough time and not enough listening, you begin to learn how to distinguish the underlying rhythm of decisions, immutable in their logic and Darwinian in their implications.

And then, suddenly and without any real announcement, you get it. You get the dance of the roundabouts, the coursing flow of living in the stream. It’s as though you were there all along but waiting for the hindsight to see it for what it is. And when you come back to the right side, it’s so familiar that you don’t lose what you’ve gained from finding that magical land, the one where you learn to hope for rain so that you can find the rainbows.