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In one of the later Mad Men episodes (The Monolith), the show’s protagonist Don Draper is whining about not having his old job and being hung over. His audience of one, Freddy Rumsen, isn’t having it. After lecturing Don about sobering up, he speaks what is to me the show’s most memorable line: “Do the work, Don.”
Mad Men is the first series I binged, together with my then girlfriend (I think we only got married after the final episode, no causation). It holds a special place in my heart. Also, it’s opening titles rank still among the best of any series.
Of all the ideas I’ve appropriated of Netflix and its peers, I’m fondest of “Do the work, Don.” It’s the perfect reply to nine out of ten LinkedIn posts. It’s a sure bet way to end any climate conversation. It’s a personal development motto for the ages. Best left unspoken, DTWD propels one to great heights, if and when listened to.
The other week, I attended the closing festival of Leiden 2022. For one year, Leiden was the European capital of science. To me, the year was an opportunity to allow some ideas we’d been tinkering with for years a freer range. Bottom-up organizing, community-driven development, culture for a common good… All was present in the year and at the closing festival.
The festival was in the city theatre. Tellingly, instead of through the front door, visitors entered backstage, emerging into the main hall from beneath the stage. After all, we were all cocreators, not mere visitors. A smart design choice! The private event organized by the Ministry of the Future I attended took place on stage entirely.
I’d like to congratulate Meta Knol and her team and all the bright people that dared to transform Leiden into a stage for inclusive experimentation this year, and their bold move to transform a dull EU event into a sparkling party. They did the work. I can’t wait to see what this year’s seed will grow into!
I’ve always felt there’s something eerie about Mad Men’s storytelling. Issues get introduced, such as that Don Draper is actually Richard Whitman, but are never brought to their ultimate conclusion. What you end up with, near the end of the series, is a stage full of loaded rifles that just don’t get shot. Checkov, of the eponymous rule, would not have been pleased.
But of course that’s the whole point of the show. Ad man create a stage full of promises and only the best in the business ensure they are not all empty. Like the stories consultants and strategists tell, there is no expectation it is ever fulfilled. In that, they are different from novelists, playwrights or the authors of e.g. Breaking Bad, whom have to take every tiny thing to their logical (and extreme) conclusion.
The question whether reality is more like an ad or a story that is slowly moving to its logical (and extreme) conclusion has been on my mind throughout 2022.
There was the ongoing saga of the Jan. 6 hearings. From a storytelling point of view, the attack on the US Capitol was a logical conclusion of events that had been years in the making. The panel called it a “multipart plan,” masterminded by “one man.”
An obvious follow-up question is, what will it take for the climate movement to reach a similar conclusion? Or, will the movement break with storytelling tradition and stick closer to real life and not do that? This question is at the heart of the okayish podcast Burn Wild. Alas, it doesn’t give a conclusive answer.
With the climate and all that, there’s no denying there are a lot of loaded rifles on the world stage currently. I’m not convinced the climate movement will pull a trigger. They’re too committed to fall for an obvious plot device. But there’s no guarantee nobody (and nothing) will accidentally pull a trigger in the years ahead and we’ll end up much more like Breaking Bad’s Walter White than Mad Men’s happiness.
DTWD. The same week, last week, my employer fulfilled a 2018 promise to have a full set of zero emission asphalt machines ready before the end of 2022. The set allows us to pave roads in areas that cannot handle more negative emissions, which in the Netherlands unfortunately is almost the entire country. These bright machines will have a busy 2023!
What you do not see in a photo like this is the work that went into this achievement, not just of my colleagues, but of our partners, competitors and many others that went the extra mile. Just the other week, a competitor had launched its first, slightly different full set. As a colleague mentioned in an interview, our competing initiatives have given an impuls to the market for emission free machines in general.
In Leiden, the festival was opened with a lecture by Derk Loorbach. Loorbach is professor in transition science, which made this the second lecture about transitions I attended in a month, after first having invited Lucas Simons to a company event. (Derk and I are also members of the same committee of the Council for Culture but that’s a different story).
Eye-opening in both lectures to me was that to succeed in a transition, you need to move beyond successful bottom-up initiatives, projects and pilots. There is not one path to achieve this, but collaborating with competitors to force a new normal is among the routes. Collectively, they can create an unfair advantage for a new way of doing things, making it unavoidable in the long term. I like this approach because it feel counterintuitive.
My hope for 2023 is that we can turn our individual successes into collective action. After all, it’s not introducing a new zero emission set that has a positive impact; it’s the hundreds of tons of carbon emissions it reduces when it runs as normal next year.
And the thousands of tons that may be reduced when emission free becomes the norm, a norm for which we need everyone to participate.
Fortunately, thanks to the amazing company I joined this year, I’m in a position to make this hope a fact. DTWD.
I like the new year because it gives me tons of new time to do things. Unlike November or December when it’s a struggle to cross off all to-do list items, January is without limitation.
I have a few things on my list for the new year. I want to learn enough about a coworker’s job to answer at least some of his email that accidentally end up with me (we share a first name). My safety jacket and boots still look way too new. I recently learned to do “pootje over” in speed skating again (the corner technique), which I’d love to make perfect. I want to run faster. DTWD!
Thanks for sticking with me throughout the year. I hope you have a wonderful 2023 and look forward to connecting again irregularly over the coming months!