William Liao

September 7, 2021

Moving metal barricades

Last Friday evening I had the privilege of getting to see John Williams conduct some of his most famous pieces at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. 

The event was packed — every single seat of the 17,500-seat venue appeared to be occupied. 

As you can imagine, the process of getting to and from the venue was rather cumbersome.

To make matters worse: on the way back to the parking garage, there was a metal barricade blocking 70% of the entrance to the stairway that leads to the garage. Despite the barricade slowing down foot traffic considerably, 100s of the attendees walking to the garage decided to walk around it. 

It would be several minutes of witnessing this phenomenon as I made my way towards the stairway until someone finally decided to move the barricade, which streamlined traffic considerably. 

At first, this might seem like a rather mundane observation: 

“He moved a metal barricade, big deal. So what?”

But consider for a moment how this situation might serve as a useful analogy for thinking about two imperatives we must acknowledge if we want to be good problem solvers:

The first imperative is recognizing that that a something is, indeed, a problem: most attendees probably didn’t think twice about the metal barricade — thankfully at least one person did. 

The second imperative is establishing the intent to address the problem and then taking action — actually moving the metal barricade out of the way.

If you don’t acknowledge problems as problems or decline to take action, you agree to live with them, give them real estate in your life for an indefinite period of time, and accept the burden that they create. 

Alternatively, you move them out of the way by addressing them directly:

  • You can replace counterproductive, the-way-we’ve-always-done-it processes with new ones. 
  • You can replace defeating narratives about how you’re not ready or not good enough with narratives about how you are capable of doing exceptional work. 
  • You can work through establish common ground to diffuse contentious working relationships. 

In most situations you can do a lot of things about the challenges and aspirations we experiencing in life; you can move the metaphorical metal barricade that is slowing you down. 

Seriously, think about it

The question is (and always has been), though: will you?