Goallessness: A Conversation with Jay Ogilvy

(Copied from the Global Business Network’s site)



Interviewed by Michael L. Iannazzi of Currency/Doubleday

Q: Isn’t living without a goal contrary to everything we’ve been taught from Mom and Dad to our teachers to our bosses? If yes, then why are you upsetting the apple cart?

A: Because sooner or later it’s time to cease preparing for life and begin living it.

Q: Where would we all be without goals? How would our lives change?

A: We’d be completely aimless with no goals whatsoever. What I’m questioning are those big Goals. Those great hulking ambitions of fame and glory and wealth and true love. I’m questioning the notion that you need a big Goal to give meaning to your life. Relieved of the weight of that final destiny of those big Goals we might just become more alive to the present, to the actual life we’re living.

Q: Is there anything peculiar about the times in which we live that has influenced your thoughts in this area? Are we at some cusp in human history that requires a revolutionary shift in behavior?

A: Yes, I think we are. We’re just coming out of a couple of hundred years where we’ve learned to think about machines. We’ve learned to use tools. We’re coming out of an industrial era where productivity is a value. We’ve learned to line up our lives in neat rows of means and ends–linear sequences of means, ends, relationships. It’s as if we’ve turned ourselves into the tools that we used to invent to serve our own ends. We’ve gotten good at this business of industrial production. Now we can maybe take some of that for granted and move on to the challenges of what people are calling the Information Age. It’s a different kind of world with different kinds of rules. The industrial paradigm helps us crank out more of the same, same, same. The mass reproduced replaceable parts. Now there’s more value in innovation–the different, different, different.

Q: Practically, how does one find one’s way in life without goals?

A: In a word, artfully. You make it up as you go along. When standing in front of a blank canvas an artist doesn’t always know how that canvas is going to get filled. How does one find one’s way? Well, not by looking for that way already set. Not by seeking one’s destiny. That kind of notion supposes that some other god, some other pattern in nature has predefined the path. It seems to me we’re more like nomads, finding our way as we go along. How does one find one’s way? One doesn’t find it, it’s not there to be found. You look around, you notice things, you sense things, you feel what you are most able to do, what you are most delighted by doing. Sometimes it’s like water finding the path of least resistance. Sometimes it’s like the path of the warrior finding resistances to conquer.

Q: Doesn’t the reality of time necessitate goals? I mean, despite where one is spiritually, time bounds our human lives, and gives order to it in a linear way.

A: This present isn’t just a dot between past and distant future. It’s thick with layers. This present has a body, a mind, a heart, feelings. Time is not just a straight line. We’ve come to think of time that way, as part of that map that the Industrial Era has given us. And too many of our lives have become that way–a thin present that is just the means to some future end, a function trying to fulfill some future goal.

So part of what Goallessness is about is trying to refill this present, feel its thickness, its many layers. Reach to Neitzche and his notion of eternal recurrence. Neitzche says that “the rock on which the human will stumbles is our inability to change the past.” If one attains what he calls a “love of fate,” then one is willing to say, “so it was, thus I will it.” This affirmation of eternal recurrence is an affirmation of a kind of eternal present. A present that is so rich, so large, so thick, that why would anybody ever wish it different?

Q: You talk bit about work and play in the book. Could you say a bit about the distinctions of each, and why you think we should all be playing around a lot more than we do?

A: So often we experience work as something to get over and done with. The ‘present’ of work is something to be endured. Not so for play. You don’t play a game in order to get it over with. You play a game to dwell in that moment, to enjoy it, to savor it. If we found more play in our work, don’t you think we’d do our work a little bit better? These best of human times, these moments of intensity in the present, are not for the sake of some distant future, some goal. And when we find ourselves truly immersed in the moment, oblivious of past and future, I think it’s then that we do our best work.

Q: You mention what seem like the seven deadly sins of Goallessness– impulsiveness, hedonism, obsession, cynicism, sloth, etc.– perhaps you can expand on these to give us an idea of how we shouldn’t view your ideas.

A: Let’s look at something that looks like Goallessness to some: hedonism. Just getting into the pleasure of the moment. The trouble with hedonism is that it’s really less about the enjoyment of the moment than making pleasure your goal. Instead of feeling the pleasure of the present moment, you arrange your life in manipulative ways for the sake of some future pleasure. We’ve all experienced the irony and failure of hedonism. Because time is so unpredictable, so unexpected, if you try to map it all out, manipulate it, arrange means to the ends of pleasure, you’re almost bound to defeat yourself. You’re almost bound to forbid that unexpected eruption of pleasure.

There’s another form of Goallessness that I want to leave behind. And that’s cynicism. The cynic is neither obsessed nor enslaved to a goal. The cynic sees through all goals, sees the worthlessness of all possible goals. But for the cynic the present is not a peak, it’s a pit. The cynic dismisses all intensity as naivet√©. The cynic knows better. But what is the cynic left with? Boredom. Depression.

I’m not saying just do nothing. I’m not saying just be here now in an empty present. Quite the contrary. I just don’t want to reduce the present to a mere means to some distant end. I want to dwell here in a present that has all these layers.

Let’s turn to love. Do you love in order to whatever? Do you love for the sake of whatever? No. You love because there are feelings, sensations, desires, impulses. Love is thick. Love has all those layers of sex, and affection. Do we make love in order to get it over with? I guess some people do. But surely that kind of goal-directed sex has less to recommend it than a sustained sensuality, a long, long present that reaches without goal-directedness into prolonged moments of desire. But these eternal moments aren’t built from impulses. It takes the power of mind and imagination and fantasy, on top of the mere machinery of the body, to stretch those moments into hours of bliss.

Q: You explore in the book what many philosophers throughout history have explored, and that is how does one live the good life. In a nutshell, what is the good life for James Ogilvy?

A: The tools we use in our work–multiple scenarios, different views of different futures–are very much in tune with this idea of Goallessness. Our company [Global Business Network] is built around the idea that the old kind of strategic planning that tries to predict the future, lay down a forecast, and then build a plan to reach that goal, is a lot of bunk. The future is not predictable, we don’t try to predict it. Instead with both individuals and institutions we find ourselves trying to artfully carve the near edge of the future. To make it up as we go along, with as much sensitivity, awareness, depth of knowledge, feeling, compassion, and finally, beauty, as we can add.

We are not all headed toward some divine destiny. Not all passionate endeavors are bound to end in success. There is no guarantee that today will lead to a better tomorrow. And tragedy is possible. But as long as we truly inhabit this expanded present–this thick, multi-layered present–bounded by a body and mind, a past and future, then I call this present “the good life.”

Thus I would will it again, and again, and again.

[Global Business Network]

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