Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wizards: The Moment Pregnant with the Future


They say a picture's worth a thousand words, and they say brevity is the soul of wit, but they aren't always right. Some things that are important can only be explained in words - in more than a few words - because we don't have precisely the right words to explain them, and because there can be no sufficiently illuminating pictures of them.

The answer to this question is one of those things:

How did things for Wizards of the Coast go from so good (first professional product) to so bad (the edge of bankruptcy) to so much better (Magic)?

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A wise friend of mine from the South, a painter named Ward Proctor, once told me that the secret to success is survival, not because survival is success, but because no one knows when opportunities to succeed will come along. You have to last long enough, until they do, and when they happen you have to be healthy and competent enough to know what to do with them.

Gamblers are losers, because what looks like the right opportunity will actually be the wrong one more often than not; even if you win now, you'll lose later. If you bet the farm on one moment in time, on just making it to some arbitrary goal post, then you're going to fail, because you can't control when the real opportunity will come, as opposed to the illusions that lure us into overextending ourselves. Murphy's Law is no joke. Most of the "sure things" are just traps to lure you into commiting yourself to a failure. Life ain't like it is in the movies; most of the time, we can't know what the genuine thing looks like until it has already happened.

You have to have a lot of lines in the water, because you don't know which one the big fish is going to bite - you certainly can't tell the size of the fish from the pull on the rod. And when you seize the moment, you have to do it in a sustainable way, in case it isn't the real thing, so you don't lose track of the other lines. While you're attending the pole that has a tiny fish tugging away on it like anything, the big fish might be quietly nibbling on the rod that's hardly moving at all.

You have to play the long game, the patient game, learning what success looks like, learning the landscape, gaining experience, improving your ability to survive, and making yourself better able to seize the moment when it comes. Above all, you have to protect and develop your capacity to do your job well and to go on doing your job. You have to keep your feet under you and not get carried away by hopes and first impressions.

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The ancient Greeks had a word for this; they called it kairos, which means the moment in time you need to seize, the one that's different from all the others, the time when what you do matters in a way it just doesn't most of the time, the time you have to prepare for your whole life sometimes just to be good enough to be able to handle it when it comes.

Kairos is hard to recognize unless you're a master in your field, and even masters often fail to recognize it. Most people who act at that moment have blundered into it by accident. Most people who have the chance to act at that moment miss it; they don't recognize it at all.

Most people who do act at that moment, whether they recognize it for what it is or not, screw it up. It is so very easy to screw up. Usually they're just not ready. Kairos has arrived too soon in their lives; if it had arrived a few years later, when they knew more, they could have been wildly successful, but instead they squander the moment and everything falls apart. Sometimes it arrives too late.

But even when it arrives exactly on time, and we act on it then, when we should, kairos is fraught with peril. When people say power corrupts, they do not realize they are actually talking about kairos, the time when all the threads of our lives and the world around us seem to fall into place, when we are magnified. It's the moment when what we do matters, when the things we do right suddenly make a difference.

The good is magnified, yes, but so is the bad. The things we do wrong are also magnified, and we make mistakes on a scale we normally never could have. The bad habits we let slide, that we defensively hid from others instead of dealing with, the things we put off, the things we didn't bother to learn, all those things suddenly matter now, bad habits seeming to burst out of us, like seeds frantically flowering in a brief Arctic summer. We are put under pressures we never before experienced, and our true character is revealed, warts and horns and clay feet and all.

That's why even when kairos arrives in our lives at the perfect time, the results are never perfect. Even when they're wildly exciting and successful, they're also simultaneously more confusing and difficult than we ever could have dreamed, because until then, until we were put to the test, we did not really know ourselves and each other as well as we thought we did.

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That's why things for Wizards of the Coast went from so good (first professional product) to so bad (the edge of bankruptcy) to so much better (Magic). That's the most concise explanation I have for everything that happened. The details of the story - the interesting part to most people - illuminate kairos with a clarity few things can, once you understand how to interpret them, because the story of everything that happened at Wizards of the Coast around Magic: The Gathering is the story of how my friends found themselves in that rare moment that matters; suddenly everything good and bad about them was magnified. Their successes or failures, their enlightenments or benightednesses, friendships shattered or forged, the overcoming of obstacles or squandering of opportunities, the painful lessons or naive mistakes - all of this came from who they were at the moment when it mattered as it never had before.

So with my break from this tale complete for now, let's go back and shed some more light on what happened, why my friends did what they did, and why things played out as they did.

2 comments:

  1. so great. thank you for the stories!

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