The tag line for my blog (“buy the ticket, take the ride”) is a quote from Hunter S. Thompson’s masterpiece, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. And I thought it was worthwhile to explain why I chose this quote. I don’t want people to think this was a coincidence, or even worse, just a lazy copy and paste from some “memorable quotes” list I stumbled upon on Goodreads. It was a deliberate choice, one which I spent quite some time thinking about.
So, why did I select “buy the ticket, take the ride”?
First of all, Hunter is one of my all-time favourite writers. Together with Vonnegut, he is responsible for instilling in me a desire to write. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but Hunter made me fall in love with the art of writing. I still remember when I first read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” back in college. I remember being blown away. I couldn’t believe that you were allowed to do that with words. It was like reading a newspaper from another galaxy.
Before I picked up that book I didn’t know the word “gonzo” existed. When I finished it, I was convinced that “gonzo” was the most powerful innovation in the field of journalism since Gutenberg. The pretence of objectivity in journalism had always been annoying, a hypocrisy we just had to collectively ignore since there was nothing we could do about it. And then along came Hunter, a journalist (among other things…), and his gonzo reporting. He made no pretence of objectivity. Not only was he part of the story, he was clearly embellishing facts and taking reality out for a spin. It was unclear where exactly reality ended and fiction started. But here’s the thing - like a true artist, Hunter used his imageries and wild yarns to make you understand the world in a very real way. He understood the power of a good story. Through little lies he made you understand a bigger Truth.
The best example of that, perhaps, came on another book from Hunter, “Fear and Loathing in the Campaign Trail ’72”, where he chronicled the McGovern vs. Nixon presidential election. McGovern’s campaign manager, Frank Mankiewicz, later described the book as “the least factual, most accurate account” of the elections. Least factual, most accurate - yup, that’s as good a description as any of Hunter.
In my humble attempts to write, I always took Hunter’s gonzo style as an aspiration. A guiding light. What if I could forget about objectivity for a second and allow myself to get caught up in the subject matter? Be part of the story and don’t shy away from some poetic license if it helps communicate a bigger point. And ultimately, that was the tone I wanted for my blog.
So it felt right that I use a quote from Hunter’s masterpiece as a reminder of what I’m trying to achieve with this blog.
And why this particular quote? There is no shortage of Hunter quotes to use, so why “buy the ticket, take the ride”?
To answer that question, you need to first understand where the quote comes from. Context and meaning. Hunter was at the end of a 4 day binge in Las Vegas and was speeding down the highway trying to get out of town before the law caught up to him. He was on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion but realised that he couldn’t afford this luxury right now. Too risky. As he put it:
But in typical Hunter fashion, he reminds the reader that he doesn’t want their pity. Pity is for the weak. He wants the reader to understand he is not only responsible for his actions, but also proud of them. Like battle scars, he wholeheartedly believes that these adventures are what make life worth living. He therefore continues in the very next line:
What Hunter is saying is clear - you don’t want to be a bystander to life. Yes, there are risks involved if you want to participate, but they are worth the price of admission.
Not only do I think that’s a valid maxim for life (though I’m not necessarily advocating going on a 4-day drug and alcohol binge in Las Vegas), I also think it’s incredibly relevant to the work I do. When you’re trying to change an organisation and make them see a new paradigm of work, there is only so much you can make them see from the sidelines. There are no magic formulas or rulebooks that will show a company what it takes to be Agile. You have to go out and do it. And yes, there will be some necessary “consciousness expansion”, but it’s all part of the journey. And if this blog achieves one thing, I hope it’s that - I hope it encourages teams and organisations to explore new and different ways to work. There is no one clear outcome here. Anybody who says otherwise is selling you snake oil. Like so many other things that matter - the journey is more important than the destination when it comes to Agile.
So, “buy the ticket, take the ride.”