A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Thirty-Four— Bugs? Daffy? Elmer? Or Michigan J. Frog?  Who’s Your Avatar?

If you have no idea who I’m talking about here, you may be culturally bereft.  These are the Looney Toons of old, carefully detailed and crafted by Chuck Jones.  Assuming you DO know who these characters are, you have aspects of at least one that resonate within your soul. 

I had the honor of interviewing Chuck Jones in 1989.  He was amazing.  He talked about giving life to the characters of Looney Toons and relating to their very human foibles.  (He also gave credit to those who went before him, including Bob Clampett and Tex Avery, who created the earliest versions of Bugs).  He spoke of the characters as real, living entities.  He owned their personalities and their idiosyncrasies.

Chuck Jones passed away in 2002…sort of. His eccentricities live on through the characters he created. 

As we encounter characters (real or fictional) in our lives, we often find ourselves wishing we could be more like them, or in the extreme, be them. 

Avatars are interesting things.  We use them to show off who we are, either in reality or in our own fantasy world.  My avatar is a cartoon version of me used by the Project Management Institute for some training I did for them 15 years ago.  Oddly enough, it looks more like me now than it did then! If you already have an avatar, great.  If you don’t, seriously consider the personalities of the Looney Toons and determine which of them best represents the “inner you.”  As an instructor, both in-person and on-line, I’ve learned something about avatars.  They can often serve to open people up to their personal perspectives that they wouldn’t otherwise share.

Lesson Learned: Quite a few years ago, I was teaching a class for a major computer manufacturer but was having a very difficult time getting participants to join in the conversation.  It’s a common trainer’s problem.  Engagement doesn’t come readily in some business cultures.  I would ask a question of the group, and the response would be crickets.  The silence was deafening. A student then unintentionally cued me in to the solution.  He answered my question not as himself, but as his boss.  “I wouldn’t be worried about that, but I believe my boss would probably sweat about it.” The answer was revelatory. I paused and began using a technique I’ve used dozens of times since.  I asked the group for a moment to not answer as themselves, but to answer as their boss…their accountants…their customer…their end users…

I basically asked them to adopt an avatar.  Their insights flowed freely.

It’s a powerful solution. In our culture, we are constantly reminded to be ourselves. In this situation, however, the challenge is to be someone/something else. As our avatar, we can share freely without the retribution we fear when we open up for ourselves.  Which brings me back to Looney Toons.  Look at the characters:

Bugs Bunny – Savvy, roll-with-the-punches, creative soul with a knack for creating discord.

Daffy Duck – Insecure, boisterous, greedy, attention-hungry, hapless individual, with a habit of falling prey to the trickery of others.

Elmer Fudd – An average “Joe” doing average things, getting sucked into incredible situations by the happenings around him.

Michigan J. Frog – A gifted song-and-dance artist who takes every opportunity to exhibit his gifts, but has no desire for public acknowledgment or acclaim.

So, who’s your avatar?  I like to think I’m Michigan J. Frog, but I’m actually far more Elmer Fudd.  (Author’s note about Michigan J. Frog.  He only formally appeared in two of his own shorts, in 1955 [One Froggy Evening] and in 1995 [Another Froggy Evening]). I love the frog’s panache and style, but realize that with my klutziness and frame, Elmer is a more apt choice. 

We use avatars to highlight who we both are and want to be.  In the cinematic classic, Armageddon, A.J. (Ben Affleck) says, “I’m Han Solo… you’re Chewie,” to whit the Oscar character (Owen Wilson) replies, “Are you kidding? Have you seen Star Wars?  I mean, come on! Give me a break!”

We can learn from that celluloid moment.  When we have fears.  When we need stamina. When we feel undervalued or underloved.  These are the moments when avatars can serve as a shield to protect us and as a means to project the image we feel the need to project.

Lesson Learned: In my first radio job in Sanford, Maine, I was honored to work with a guy whose air name was Buzz Brewster.  He was iconic as a radio voice.  His energy and ebullience shone. He knew that mine did not.  At one point, Buzz pulled me aside and asked if I listened to radio.  I acknowledged that I did, but stressed that I didn’t feel like I had what those other voices had. His advice?  “When you’re on the air, just become one of them.  Sound like them.  Act like them. Be like them.” I took his advice, and had a radio career that ultimately carried me to the news director’s job in Washington, DC. In that entire time, it wasn’t me on the air. It was my avatar. I was just speaking on his behalf.
Shakespeare (in As You Like It) once said “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Shakespeare knew, as modern movies prove out, that many of the “players” take on multiple roles.  (Consider Peter Sellers’ array of roles in Dr. Strangelove, or Michael Myers’ in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery).  And consider yourself.  A little Michigan J. Frog here…a little Bugs Bunny there. If we can adopt our avatars, it’s not a matter of deception. It’s a matter of being everything we can possibly be.  That’s all folks!

(for this segment)

Up next?   A few thoughts on the value of SOME clutter.

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog

If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.