Thursday, August 23, 2007

Now what?

Animaniacs came out just as Mrs. Gerbil and I were starting high school. The timing could not have been better. We were just barely too old for kids' cartoons, but just old enough to get adult humor. For Halloween of our sophomore year, a bunch of us even went out trick-or-treating as several of the Animaniacs. Appropriately, Mrs. Gerbil was Wakko, and I was the Brain.

I love Pinky and the Brain. Like all good cartoons, the plots are highly predictable. But there's something just extra cool about lab rats with designs on world domination. With few exceptions, each episode ends with Pinky's question, "Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tomorrow night?" and the Brain's answer, "Same thing we do every night, Pinky--try to take over the world!" And by the next night, the Brain has already developed a brand-new, highly detailed plan. How much time does he actually spend thinking up new plans? Does he mull over possibilities for a while, or does the whole thing come to him all at once? We will never know.

But one thing is certain: once one plan fails, he manages to come up with a new one. The Brain does not sit around and ponder where to go from here. He has no need of that cliche "next steps," because the only thing on his agenda is to try to take over the world again.

The phrase "next steps" fills me with a weird sort of revulsion. I was taught to avoid cliches (like the plague, haha) at geek camp; and yet my visceral reaction to "next steps" is very much unlike my visceral reaction to other cliches. It's similar to my visceral reaction to words like "sustainability," "green living," and "ecoresponsibility." These are fantastic concepts, but sometimes I think they fall victim to name-dropping. (I admit, I had to Google "sustainability" to find out what it really meant, so many times did I hear someone say "we're focused on sustainability" without mentioning how, exactly, this focus was accomplished.)

Because Western thought and life are quite linear, I suppose it only makes sense that we should think about what to do next. I'm fairly certain that my problem with the phrase "next steps" is that it gets used when nothing's actually been accomplished yet. For instance: I used to work in a non-profit that worked with a whole bunch of other non-profits. As a group, we had tremendous difficulty deciding what to do now, and yet somehow we were perfectly happy to discuss (for hours at a time) what to do next. Non-profit paralysis had set in for many of us--the deadly combination of not enough money, not enough time, and not enough resources. Having "next steps" meetings was a defense against having to do something in the present that might, of course, fail.

The other problem with "next steps" is that someone actually has to follow through with them. Brainstorming "next steps" is great; but who's going to make sure the list doesn't wind up in the circular file? Perhaps it's an odd sort of motivation for those who aren't actually doing anything measurable in the present, a way to avoid feeling aimless once the first task is finally completed.

Or perhaps I am too much of a cynic. Perhaps I don't have enough patience or tolerance for other people's way of doing things.

Some (including but not limited to Mrs. Gerbil) have said that the world would be much better off if I ran it. So I think tomorrow night I'm going to try to take over the world. I'll plant subliminal messages in car commercials that link the phrase "next steps" to "I will do whatever Gerbil says."


jcat said...

Hi Gerbil,

- found your blog via Shrink Rap. After I read some of your comments there, I spent the whole of yesterday afternoon reading your blog from end to start! And snickering at a whole lot of it...

Would you mind if I linked to it from mine?


jcat said...

Hi there....

I sent my psychologist your last knock-knock joke:

"Knock knock.
Who's there?
Therapist who?
I'll answer that in a minute, but first, I'm curious about why you ask."

Thought you might like the response I got :

"Tee Hee..but most importantly how does that make you feel?"