Seeking Perspective

From Pixar’s Ratatouille

“I’d like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective…” says the food critic, voiced by Peter O’Toole, in Ratatouille.

At the Y tonight, I first ended up in conversation with a friendly woman who might be older than me, or might be close to the same age as I am. She’s thin, and sort of wispy, in a way I have never and likely will never be. As she was brushing out her hair and we were talking about local stores, and buying local, I felt big, somewhat boxy, and heavy in comparison. I also felt strong. 

Then a bit later I walked past a woman who seemed to me to be a wall of existence, as if a human woman had been put through an enlarging machine. She was easily a foot taller than me, at least a foot wider, a linebacker build. Solid and overall large, Amazonian, making me feel…petite…and nearly frail.

By the way, I hadn’t changed at all. 

While swimming I realized my hand hurt a bit. I had jammed my left hand a week ago and have had trouble doing some yoga moves since, and now swimming put pressure on my fingers just the wrong way. I still swam, but with less force. I was griping a bit about this, to myself and to my son. It was a limit that irritated me. Then in the jacuzzi, while I was stretching out and frowning at my swollen fist and digits, a man entered the hot water, and said hello. I said hello and how are you. I often wait for an answer and seldom get one, yet this time after a few minutes he said, “well, I really want to tell you. I’m doing fine, but I have three types of cancer (liver, pancreatic and something I am embarrassed to say I cannot remember)”. He said that he is doing great, fighting hard, exercising every day, going to church, doing the chemo, and living as long as he can. My hand did not hurt anymore, though it was still injured. 


I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Credited to Thomas Alva Edison

Think about ZNE and goals set to achieve that zero net energy performance in a building project. By setting aspirational goals, we can change the perspective we have of “failure”. We so often see the quotes about how Edison didn’t fail to make a lightbulb 10,000 times, he found 10,000 ways how NOT to make a lightbulb. And each of those ways informed his curiosity, models, and paths of inquiry until he found the right path. Missing a goal means to some that the project failed, but if you have set aspirational goals, such as zero net energy or net positive energy performance, then even in missing that goal you can achieve much more than you would have otherwise. On the other hand, if you set a goal for code compliance, then you are setting a limit to your potential success. When you set an aspirational goal, every step along that line with a common, informing, future-focused end point illustrates progress and achievement. It changes the perspective about the work, gives us insights into our lifelong learning, and supports iterations for improvement.

I got some information today on a project I’ve been working hard on, with an excellent team, all of us fully invested in changing our shared future. This new information means, perhaps, that the project will not go forward. I am sad, bummed, disappointed. I wallowed, for a while, in the intense effort of the past few months, and the frustration that we will not be able to do this project the way it should be done. I lamented the waste of time and energy in all the struggles and decisions. And then I pushed myself, and my internal dialogue, to gain some perspective. This adjusted point of view does not change the reality that we may not be able to do this project in this way at this time, but it changes everything else.

  • We have opened the doors to the idea that existing buildings can be retrofit to ZNE performance.
  • We have introduced design teams, contractors, and manufacturers to this idea, and engaged them in this desire.
  • We have identified some of the things that will have to change in order to make this idea a practicable reality. This includes needing additional funds in order to navigate the learning curve expense that will be inherent in the first few projects. This is the case in the work of Energiesprong to date as well.
  • My personal work and approach to work will never be the same – my language is changing, my technical curiosity has increased, and I have recognized the true meaning of “imperative” in our climate imperative. We have zero time to waste.

Realize that failure is part of progress.

I invite you to change your perspective. Read a bit more. Talk to your full teams about the aspirational goals you could/should be setting. Read case studies that will inspire your team, inform you as to what’s already been done, and let you see how much further we can go. Realize that failure is part of progress. And love the relationships you build along the way. 


From Pixar’s “Ratatouille”, a moment engaged in a new perspective.
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