Rubber Band Man

Yes, that is a song by the R&B group, The Spinners, released in 1978, but that is not the point.

Donna is a 1969 Mustang Coupe. Her family includes both the Mach 1 (250 hp) and the Boss 302 (290 hp), but Donna was born a “base” model. She has the 302 cubic inch block but not the performance upgrades and only has 220 hp. At the other end of the drive train are her fairly mild 2.79 gears (meaning the drive shaft must make 2.79 revolutions for the wheel to make 1 revolution.) Lower horsepower and torque combined with the smaller gear ratio means that Donna was not nearly as fast off the line as her brothers and sisters.

However, when new, Donna was beautiful (she still is), comfortable to drive, got reasonable gas mileage, and could cruise on the highway at a relatively low rpm. She had the same engine block, same body, same suspension and was made on the same assembly line as the Mach 1 and Boss 302, but she was made for different things. In order to be efficient and comfortable she had to give up quickness and raw power. She had to compromise.

As we restore her to her former beauty and glory, we too are having to compromise. As we rebuild the engine, we can increase the horsepower, but it will cost us fuel efficiency. We can change her transmission to have a higher gear, but she wasn’t made for that and it would cause other issues and require other changes. We can increase her rear gear ratio to get off the line faster, but we would sacrifice comfortable highway cruising. In short, Donna can’t be everything.

Neither can we.

As we walk the path of our lives, we must make a choice at each fork in the road. Each choice we make selects something, but it also releases something else. Only often, we don’t actually let go. Initially, the distance between the two paths is small, almost indistinguishable, but over time the paths diverge more and more, and we find ourselves trying to straddle both paths. Stretched taut, like a rubber band pulled too far, we get thinner and thinner. Eventually we might even break. We do this to ourselves but we often have a significant amount of help from the people around us.

I was talking to a dear friend the other day. Within the context of our conversation she admitted how overwhelming and difficult it was to be all the things she felt she was expected to be. The world around us (which often includes our parents, family, spouse, and friends) tells us we can have it all and be it all. While no one may actually condemn or judge us for making one choice and releasing others, we get a lot of signals from the world that if we try hard enough, we don’t have to pick.

But we do.

We have to choose whether we are going to be fast off the line and quick in the quarter mile, or comfortable and efficient to drive. While that may be a little simplistic, it is really quite accurate. Each decision we make should be in alignment with the vision we have for our life. If we don’t have a vision for our life, we can find ourselves installing a high horsepower engine and then trying to drive for high gas mileage.

Compromise is often seen as a negative thing, but it isn’t in this case. Webster says that compromise is, “something agreed upon as a result of each side changing or giving up some demands.” If we see the choices we make as having a discussion with ourselves and coming to an agreement, then compromise is giving up some demands to reach that choice.

This takes courage.

I was listening to a song by Boston while cleaning house one day. In “Don’t Look Back”, Tom Scholz sings:

I can see
It took so long just to realize
I’m much too strong
Not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around

When it comes to life choices, sometimes compromise is the strongest move. The willingness to give up some things, that may be good, in order to achieve things that are great is hard. Saying no is hard. But we have to say no a lot so we can say yes to what is best for us and those around us.

This is true for a company too. We have to choose carefully where we invest our effort and our resources. Currently we are focused on improving our manufacturing through changes to our systems and processes and a move to a new campus. To do this effectively we had to put diversification on hold. We can and will come back to that, but for now we have to say no to some things to be able to do other things well.

Spread too thin, we are not going to be successful at anything. Focused, we are capable of being world class.

And so are you.