Cracking the Code

letters-3403152_640In November of 1990, a new sculpture titled “Kryptos” was installed on the grounds of CIA headquarters in Langley. Created by artist Jim Sanborn, the 12 block of copper is covered with 1,800 characters carved in four sections. Each section is written in a different code and, together, they form a riddle. It took eight years for the first three section to be decoded. Despite attempts by the CIA, NSA, and others around the world – not to mention a handful of clues provided by the artist – the fourth code has yet to be cracked. And it’s only 97 characters long.

I guess some puzzles are just really hard to solve.

Most of us aren’t analysts with the government, nor do we have sophisticated computer systems at our fingertips that can run decryption algorithms; but we still have riddles to solve. We wrestle with personal puzzles like “How do I lose weight?” or “Why can’t I seem to get motivated?” In the workplace we struggle to crack the codes of leadership, performance, and growth strategy.

And we struggle with these things despite the abundance of clues at our disposal. Type the word leadership into Google’s search engine for example, and you’ll find:

178,000,000 news articles

1,160,000,000 videos

4,210,000,000 total results

Shouldn’t we have cracked the leadership code by now? (For what it’s worth, I asked Google that exact question and got 10,800,000 answers.) Maybe some codes just aren’t meant to be cracked. Perhaps in some cases, the struggle is the point.

What if the fight to become a better leader is what actually makes you better?

What if the struggle to improve my performance is what causes my performance to improve?

What if wrestling with growing the business is what actually results in sustained growth?

I was talking with a friend about the issues he was having some members of his team. He threw up his hands and asked “Why does it all have to be so difficult?” (Google has 1,110,000,000 answers to that question by the way.) I think the real answer is “because it has to be.” The struggle is what makes us better. If “it” – whatever your “it” is – was easy, everyone would be doing it.

So keep fighting. Keep working on the puzzle. Keep trying to crack the code. Know that the attempt itself is what matters. Google doesn’t have the answer because the question is the answer.

Jim Sanborn says the answer to his sculpture/code/riddle is on a piece of paper locked in a safe deposit box. Should someone claim to have figured it out, he stands ready to open the box and verify that their work has paid off. I’m starting to wonder if there’s anything written on that piece of paper at all.