This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 30, 1993

June 30, 1993 - theory of the expanding egg

The more I think about this, the more I have come to believe that people only have one big idea in their whole lives.

Einstein, the very stereotype of genius, only had one -- the Theory of Relativity. Copernicus had the notion that the earth went around the sun. George Seurat came up with the concept of breaking up the world into little dots of color-pointillism. Camus concluded that the world was absurd.

I don't mean to belittle the importance of any of these things. Each of these people went on to further discoveries. But in the main, all of their work issued from a single initial idea, unique to each person. Just one.

My own idea -- and we're definitely not talking The Theory of Relativity here -- came to me when I was 17. I call it, The Theory of The Expanding Egg. This theory has guided my personal life, and now that I think of it, has directed my professional career as well.

In my model the essential nature of the universe is a series of ever-expanding eggs. For instance, at some point, your life is like that of a fully incubated chick. The chick starts chafing against the restrictions of the shell. Finally, it develops the strength and the means -- a beak-to break out of it. If it doesn't break out, it dies.

After it cracks the shell and struggles free, it goes through a predictable range of responses: agoraphobia, confusion, excitement, discovery-and eventually, familiarity.

My big insight is that this stage is nothing more than finding yourself inside another egg. A bigger, or expanded egg.

To continue the analogy: once the chicken gets familiar with the barnyard, maybe at some point he or she gets bored or curious, so flies over the fence and into a larger world. This is just like breaking out of another egg. It seems to me that organizations work pretty much the same way. There's birth, an expansion, the discovery of new limits, a period of organization tending toward stagnation, a new birth.

Almost everyone I know fits precisely into one of these cycles. I see people who are very comfortable in their little eggs and whose entire consciousness is turned inward. I see people who have just broken out of some previous shell, and are still floundering. I see people who are determined to get all this new information organized, regularized, constructed into an identifiable shape. And I see people who are starting to fret about the limits of their lives.

Sometimes, people even have a special bent for one of these stages. Or maybe they just do better when their outer circumstances match their inner condition. Sometimes too, I think that the success of an organization depends on matching the basic orientation of the leader to the current needs of the institution. For instance, some people love adventure, energy, the possibilities of the unknown. This is just the person you need when your organization has just turned a corner into new territory.

There are people who believe everything should be in its place, and they have a real talent for getting things there. This is the kind of leader you want when your organization has finished a significant expansion, but you don't feel that you're getting the maximum benefit out of your resources. Then there's the kind of person who can't stand stagnation, who rebels against the old ways, who is restless for ... something completely different. You can't find a better boss when your organization is trapped, when it seems like it must change, or die.

The truth is, of course, that leaders aren't enough. Organizations need all kinds of people, wherever they happen to be in relation to the size of their "egg." Take libraries.

A library building is itself a kind of an egg, with distinct limits. But inside the library, some of us (the people who buy our books) are out scouting the great expanses for new materials, new subjects, or new formats. Some of us (our catalogers and shelvers) are running around making sure these items are described well enough to be useful, and that we've put all this stuff where people can find it. And a good many folks elsewhere in the library (the rest of our staff and our patrons) are still exploring the current setup, or starting to rub up against its limits.

So okay, the expanding egg is a good idea. It explains a lot. It even helps predict things.

Somehow, though, it bothers me. It's been a long time since I was 17. Couldn't I have two good ideas?

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