“I’m bored.” Bob Quiltich mentioned three times during our evening and morning together. The words struck me with the force of an hour chime each time he uttered them: perhaps because no one else I’ve met spoke of boredom; perhaps because Bob’s life didn’t seem boring. He’s a 75-year-old clinical psychologist, a devotee of Skinner. He travels extensively, is involved with the local Unitarian Church, has a broad personal library, and still works. Yet his comment resonated. Some spark was missing in Bob’s life. It’s not my place to try and name it in a 24-hour visit, but since our visit, I’ve spent miles pedaling and trying to fathom why this smart guy with so many balls in the air is bored.
Bob was born in Long Beach, raised in D.C, Miami and Knoxville, completed his doctorate at Kansas University and moved to Reno in 1973. He’s been ambivalent about his home base ever since. “The appeal of the new is great. For me, the appeal is ‘not Reno’. I’ve never had a bad trip. In San Francisco, just walk out on the sidewalk and adventures begin.” Yet Bob, who’s enjoyed a few long relationships but never married or had children, never moved to San Francisco. He always returns to Reno and endures several days of low spirits while he adjusts to being home.
Bob’s not emotionally volatile. On the contrary, he’s rational and data driven. “I did one-on-one clinical work for years, but now I’m a program guy. I’ve developed a specialty in program evaluation. It’s unsuccessful. Nobody wants to evaluate their program. To do that, you have to work with a funder. The evaluation criteria have to be set up first.” He even tossed me what he called my take-home quote, “Great organizations are built on great data.”
Bob’s penchant for data and analysis resonated with me. After all, I’m plenty analytical and was a Lean process improvement facilitator for years. But Bob’s analytical focus appears to contribute to, rather than diminish, his ennui. “The way I have put things together is not good. It’s becoming monotonous and not fun.”
Bob’s newest professional endeavor is teaching a course in family meeting. The idea is to schedule regular meetings to address planning issues, tasks and activities within a family group. The meetings don’t occur at dinner, “that would be a distraction,” or during an emergency or when someone is particularly upset. Family members learn how to use an agenda and allow everybody to talk in a genial environment. His newest travel endeavor is an upcoming trip to Cuba. Based on his animation alone, the Cuba trip is much more exciting than teaching a class about how to hold meetings.
Even Bob’s spiritual connection, the Unitarian Church, is murky. “I joined the church in 2004 to help defeat George Bush the second’s reelection. That is the wrong reason to join a church.” He invited me to a Sunday Forum talk on income inequality. “The Forum talks are much more interesting than the actual services.” He was correct, the Forum was fascinating and informative. Still, I took his advice and cycled on before the service began.
Bob is 100% right that great organizations are built on great data, but great organizations are also built on great people, great culture, and a great product. Program evaluation is critically important and rarely done correctly, but good evaluation doesn’t make a great program. It would be nice, and rational, if human behavior could be molded to the optimum data curve. But that’s not human behavior, that’s robot behavior. I hope Bob finds greater meaning in life; he is a seeker with so much to offer. But I doubt he’ll find it in data. Humans are both more complex and less reliable than data and evaluation can describe. Which may not make us efficient, but keeps us from being boring.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I’m thinking of my church. My pet peeve at church is that I am read to, not talked to. It goes along with our academic bent. All they know is how to read. But reading aloud lacks the life, and conviction, of direct talk.”