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The Allure of Symmetry

Wednesday was one of those rare days where everything lined up. 12/12/12.  It doesn’t get more symmetrical than that. Everything did line up, didn’t it?

It’s interesting to observe our innate desire for symmetry. What is so alluring about order? Why do we strive for regularity, balance, and equilibrium? We all can’t be born in late August and September under the sign of Virgo.

Certainly 12/12/12 was a day when the world clock came together in a way that won’t happen again until next year’s 11/12/13. But why does a stacking of the same digits cause universal commentary?  What does 12/12/12 really represent?

The neatness of 12/12/12 would seem to signal our struggle for order and meaning, perhaps even standardization in a world that’s become complex and confusing.

If ambiguity is the new norm then how should we think and act? If we work and live in an environment of constant flux should we stop trying to line up things? Is our desire for symmetry an illusion? Or should we continue the good fight?

The answer is as challenging as the issue itself.  First, I believe we have to accept ambiguity as what’s normal in our work and life. Next we need to heed the old saying about dealing with reality: With acceptance comes understanding. Our desire for order shouldn’t be confused with our need for meaning. We absolutely need to make sense of the madness. How else are we to figure out what to do and why?

But, here’s where it gets tricky.

Our response doesn’t have to be neat. Nor does it have to be orderly or symmetrical. Our response simply needs to make sense. How we choose to articulate a response should be as open and asymmetrical as what feels right, albeit in a responsible kind of way. Here are a number of examples that express what I mean.

The request for an essay might be met with ideas expressed through a comic strip. An inspiring poem might have no pattern. A technology solution could be less like a stack of like parts and more like an environment of unique components that work together. Jazz is all about spontaneous chaos. Work is no longer a place since you can now do work anywhere on any device at any time. When it comes to selecting new leadership, recruiting sports talent or seeking out a spouse the best fit might not be the perfect resume filled with a classic set of normalized experiences.

With so much swirling about it’s easy to be pulled in by the allure of symmetry, of doing things in an orderly, balanced way. Order, balance, symmetry are the wrong ways to think about it. We should be striving for a natural, harmonious response to how we make sense of things. When in doubt heed another great saying from the asymmetrical 1960s: Go with the flow.

Thomas Butta

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