We don’t always see eye-to-eye in the workplace.

There can be disagreement and tension, moments of apparent chaos and disorder, all because we don’t all think alike at all times. The higher the stakes, the greater the tension.

But that’s what happens when we put people together and introduce a problem. The smarter the people, the likelier we are to hear the crack of the billiards, busting from their neat formation, the result of “the break,” the inciting incident, the moment the cue ball strikes the racked balls.

The aftermath looks like chaos. But then reason and calculation are brought to bear. The crisis plays out like a game on a board until every ball is in its pocket and all is resolved. We rack them up again and chalk our cue tips.

If we could ask the late Jonathan Winters in that Twilight Zone episode, A Game of Pool, he’d tell us (as “Fats” Brown), “Pool is geometry in its most challenging form. A science of precise angles and forces.”

When we approach problems and disagreements in this manner, we may rely on the tried and true. Absolute things, sure as gravity and the known laws of physics. These include forces and angles as applied to human nature.

There are direct approaches to a problem. But when that purple four-ball is covered by the striped, red eleven-ball, we must come at it from an angle. We can bounce the cue in an indirect path, still obeying the perfection of geometry, still honoring rules.

Seasoned pool players know it’s not all force and drive. They employ the paradoxical power of the soft touch. Finesse. They put some “English” on the balls, a bit of side-spin, coaxing them into the eccentric path they wish them to travel, not as a form of manipulation (remember, the rules of physics are still at work), but merely as persuasion.

They can get unorthodox and do things most players wouldn’t dare. Like jump shots. Per the Billiards Congress of America rule book, “Unless otherwise stated in rules for a specific game, it is legal to cause the cue ball to rise off the bed of the table by elevating the cue stick on the shot, and forcing the cue ball to rebound from the bed of the table. Any miscue when executing a jump shot is a foul.” When all else fails, we must jump over barriers.

Risky business. But the bold, not the timorous, are rewarded for their efforts.

“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice; it is conformity.”
—Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself

I’m a believer in rules. I embrace principles, especially, because they transcend moments and methods. If we know the principles, we can devise our own methods (Emerson). They show us the way and open unusual paths, even within constraints.

So much for principles and creativity.

In life, we must be like the cue tip. A cue tip is made of leather. You can buy them in degrees of softness and hardness. Regardless, they all compress and grow harder with use. We must know this before the game gets serious.

When chaos occurs, we tend to coil up and turn stiff, but it’s best to remain calm, to keep our heads when all about us are losing theirs (Kipling). We should recall the rules, and especially the principles. Remember the array of angles and forces at our disposal. Remember that less is more. We can be as tough as leather while rendering a tender touch.

As we see the game through to its end, tensions ease, all resolves. In good time, chaos is restored to order and we rack ’em up for the next round.

ANTHONY ROTOLO is a writer and content guy who would be considered the greatest pool player of all time, if it were not for the memory of the late James Howard “Fats” Brown.