I’m listening to an Audible book called “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years.” It’s by a former Obama speechwriter, David Litt, and it’s hilarious. For anyone who has read much from the Obama White House, it’s nothing new really—another Ivey League-educated white kid talking about hanging in the Oval Office. But it’s an amusing tale of a happier time, and I’ve really enjoyed it.
It’s also offered some pearls of wisdom. Yesterday, I was listening to a portion in which Litt talks about a taping an Obama speech. The speech was happening outside and during it there was a candle of some sort behind the President’s head. As he was speaking, something went wrong and the small candle slowly grew into a giant ball of flame.
There were three staff members, including Litt, who were present as a large ball of flame threatened to incinerate the head of the President of the United States. Initially, none of them did anything.
Litt says this wasn’t because they were unconcerned. It was because they were “staying in their lane.” They knew their job duties and none of their jobs included “saving the President from a ball of fire.”
Eventually, one of them did finally leap forward and extinguish the fire. The point remains though. And I’ve been thinking a lot about it since listening to this passage yesterday. Often, in our jobs, we see the metaphorical balls of flame about to destroy the leader of the free world and we don’t do anything. Ok, maybe not that level of catastrophe, but we see places where implementing change would be a great idea and because it falls out of our realm of duty, we don’t say a single word.
It’s a strange system the professional world has set up for us. It makes us feel comfortable—we know what’s expected of us, but it’s not really conducive to creative innovation or game-changing moves.
I’m a stay-in-my-lane rule-follower by my nature. And while that serves me well much of the time (I’m not in prison), there are a lot of times when I wish I’d calmly and diplomatically (and metaphorically) told the President he was about to be severely burned.