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To maintain is divine
On sweater weather, planned obsolescence, and the need to treat good caretakers with the same social esteem we give to disruptors (or perhaps even more)
The essence of fall isn't the arrival of sweater weather or the pumpkin-spicing of food items both tolerable and wildly inappropriate. No, the essence of the season is the reminder that nature obeys a rigorous discipline of routine maintenance. Without leaves falling and annual plants dying off, there would be no room for the dormancy of winter, the flourishing of spring, or the products of summer.
■ Some plants nature pushes out of the way, only to be replaced the next year by whatever makes the cut in cutthroat ecological competition. Others nature brings back -- often bigger and better than before. Trees grow their new rings, while rose bushes thicken and grape vines bear more-sought-after fruit.
■ As humans living in a world accustomed to practices like fast fashion and planned obsolescence, the merits of maintenance often deserve more credit than they get. Not all maintenance is worth doing, of course: Some things are better off being replaced than fixed. Nobody should try to fix a 20-year-old tube TV.
■ But like nature, we ought to know which things to let go and which to keep around. And for those things we want to keep around, whether they be infrastructure or institutions, we shouldn't hesitate to put a premium on good maintenance. Both the physical goods we can keep in good working order and the human systems that occasionally need some fresh leadership and a renewed sense of purpose are often worth maintaining.
■ It's considered exciting -- sexy, even -- to start new things. Lots of people accumulate social approval and plenty of wealth from becoming "founders". Serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and first-round angel investors get lots of status and cash alike. But a well-functioning society needs people who are proud to keep things working once they've been started, and who are respected for doing it.
■ Making consistent, incremental improvements to how a firm, a non-profit, or a government agency works will probably never get the same kind of attention as being a publicity-hounding "disruptor". But we count on the people with a custodial mindset -- those who breathe life into titles like "trustee" and notions like "fiduciary duty" -- to ensure that we don't just waste our time building up monuments that end up crumbling all too soon after they are raised.