Boring is Good (by Hualong Yang)
Where does the idea come from?
I came up with the idea of “boring is good” when I was attending a legal team meeting in New York in September 2016. We had one of our meetings in an office of the law firm that helped the company I work for go public and list on the New York Stock Exchange in 1997.
In the meeting I was very much interested in how a board meeting and a shareholder meeting were organized and ran. I remembered I asked quite a few questions and my boss (the Group General Counsel & Board Secretary at that time) elaborated on each of them.
I learned what needed to be done every quarter for a board meeting and every year for an annual shareholder meeting was pre-defined with precise steps. You followed a written preparation process and a guided timetable, maintained a follow-up list, and coordinated with defined stakeholders and service vendors. You prepared SEC filing materials, meeting minutes, and even talking points, you got the content properly pre-reviewed, you got the discussions properly documented, and you finished your agenda exactly as scheduled.
I said “It seems there is a lot of work.”
“Yes, indeed. What you need to do is to make sure no one drops any balls,” my boss confirmed.
“The work is intangible,” I added. "And the business is focused on business.”
“That is exactly what we want to achieve," he affirmed. “No disruptions and no excitement, so that people can focus on the everyday business.”
“Well, it seems boring, and I guess boring is good!” I commented.
“Indeed,” he and our other colleagues echoed.
Looking back over the years, I see my boss never dropped the balls in his decades-long career, and endured all manner of “boringness,” which was good for the company.
Boringness means something apparently not exciting. Boringness means something repetitive, stable, and subject to a cycle. Humans tend to chase change and downplay the unchanging. From my view, boringness is fundamental and instrumental to our daily lives. Our human bodies are governed by repetitive cycles, which, if disrupted makes us sick. Our societies are also based on stable values, and in their absence, societies collapse.
We as individuals operate to a great extent on auto-pilot thanks to our habits and unconsciousness. Otherwise, our brains would burn out. I think each of us needs to appreciate the boringness we experience every day. Why? Because boringness helps us to get better. Boringness substantiates our lives. When we start to appreciate all this, we become stronger and happier.
Boringness helps us get better
I would like to use the sport running to illustrate this.
Professional runners run with a certain pace and speed and maintain a consistent effort as much as possible through the whole distance. Only beginners try to run fast and slow, change their effort from one moment to the next, and run as if they were jumping or dancing. That was how I ran as a beginner a few years ago. I got the lesson when a fellow runner behind me said “Go straight ahead, don't go around.”
When we watch how a professional runner and a beginner run, we will quickly understand that the difference lies in how well they maintain the boringness in their running process. Professional runners always follow a cycle when they run – they prepare, they warm up, they run, they slow down, and they eventually ease up. They don’t skip the process, they do it again and again, because they know boringness protects their bodies and is an indicator that they run correctly.
Boringness substantiates our lives
When we were young, we were taught we should set goals and make our success. Success typically means getting something we don’t have. Success means we achieve something new, something exciting. It is appropriate and desirable for everyone to be successful as we want to realize our potential and to add value. In this way, we earn respect and self-respect through aspiration, exploration and creation, which help to define the “glorious” moments of our life.
In our daily lives, we watch movies, read books, pay attention to headlines, play games, and even gossip on rumors. We want to hear something extraordinary, learn new things, and experience the unexpected. This creates excitement and meets our needs derived from curiosity. We also want to meet new people, make new connections, and enter into new relationships. It is a process of discovery, engagement and a build-up of mutual commitment. A good social relationship is rewarding and creates a lot of joy.
In practice, however, our daily life is not full of the extraordinary, and we spend a lot of time alone. Boringness thus makes up a great portion of our lives. Our lives are made from repetitive routines. Bad weather can continue for months, and the coffee always tastes the same. Hourly employees complain of their flat wages as inflation spikes. Executives complain they get “bored” with meetings even though they are important. Even gold does not glitter, and when it does glitter, people complains it always glitters in an old-style manner.
Boringness is the unglamorous background and soil of our lives. Without it, we have no way to hide, and we have no place to stand. We overestimate the positive and underestimate the non-positive. I think we will become happier when we start to appreciate every service we receive that supports our daily lives and to appreciate every moment that we stay safe.
When I was elaborating on this theme I had a few walks along a river. Because I am so familiar with the paths and the environment, I can probably finish my walk with my eyes closed. I walked recently on a day when Spring had not really come. The sky was grey, the temperature was low, the wind was blowing, and I was not in a good mood. I suddenly saw a huge tree peppered over with tiny, crimson-tipped blossom-buds. I had no doubt seen this tree many times but was never mindful of it. I felt touched as it provided me a great strength – in whatever weather, this tree just follows its cycle and responds to its own rhythm.
I want to convey my best wishes to this respectful tree – I hope you are not useful and the land to which you belong is not useful as well, so that people will not use you as the material for crafting furniture and use the land for developing a lucrative business.
My respectful tree, boring is good for you!