"If you have an apple, and I have an apple and we exchange apples then we both still have one apple. If you have an idea, and I have an idea and we exchange ideas then we both have two ideas." George Bernard Shaw

Monday, February 17, 2014

Move Quickly, Not Fast

     The idea for this post comes from The Book of Five Rings attributed to Musashi Miyamoto, a legendary 17th century swordsman of Japan. To those of you interested in Eastern philosophy it is an interesting read, and not very long either.
     So many people are in a rush to do everything.  It's a good idea to not waste time and to be efficient it's true, but there is a difference between moving fast and moving quickly to not waste time. Too often I think people worry about moving fast, rather than moving quickly.  I am generally not a fast person.  I mostly move slowly and steadily through whatever I am doing, not because I want to drag it out, but because I am simply not a fast person in general.  However I can be quick, moving from one task to another smoothly and efficiently. (I don't pretend that I always act quickly, but I can when I need to.)
     Moving fast isn't really something you can control. To a certain degree you can work to imrove your speed, but in general it is something you are born with. Moving quickly on the other hand is a matter of choice.
     Moving quickly means not wasting time between tasks and not deliberating over choices. When you make a choice go forth with resolve and accomplish whatever task you set yourself with. Don't waste time wondering what would happen if you went with a different route. I don't mean that you shouldn't take ample time to make a good choice, but once you decide upon a path go with it.
     On the other hand one can rush through everything, trying to get as much done as possible, but often making mistakes along the way. This is what I mean by not moving fast. Take care in accomplishing a tast and do it well. Once that task is done move on without wasting time in between one task and the next.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Leadership is a Big Game of Chess

     I wish I could recall the circumstances that led to this particular thought. I was talking to someone, probably my mother, about leadership and I thought that being a leader is like playing big game of chess.
     Chess is a game that I enjoy playing and wish I was good at, but have never gotten very serious about, despite the fact that many of my friends think I must be good at chess.  It's a very strategic game made of many pieces each with very unique attributes. A good chess player knows his pieces, their strengths and weaknesses, the playing field, and his end goal.
     Every piece in chess is different and has special ways of acting that no make it valuable. A good chess player knows that each, if used properly can be used to great advantage, even those that seem to be less important.
     The people we lead come in all varieties, from those who take center stage to those that are content to do their job in the background and not be noticed, to those who are afraid to share what they have to give.  A leader needs to get to know each of his "pieces", their strengths and weakness. Don't overlook anyone. From pawn to king, each has something to contribute if you know how to use them.
     A chess player knows the game board.  I don't mean just knowing that there are 64 squares of alternating colors. I mean knowing what positions are most important to hold, which are best for offense and which for defense. The best chess players know the board so well that they can play without even looking at the board. By using chess notation a strong player knows where all of his and his opponents pieces are in relation to eachother. He knows who is in danger and who is in a position to attack.
     Whatever our playing field is we must know it thoroughly. Perhaps we lead a nation and need to know what areas are safe and secure and which are under imminent threat. Perhaps we lead a small group of people on a campout and need to know where we can set up tents and what and where poison ivy grows.
     Perhaps the most important thing to know in a game of chess or in a leadership position is the goal. In chess it is simple: capture the opponent's king, and protect your own. For leaders it can be anything from helping to chop firewood for winter to leading your troops through enemy terrain.  Whatever it is it must be understood by leaders, or else little or nothing can be accomplished.
     When a leader understands each of these basic principles and brings them together he can accomplish great things.  He can maximise the effectiveness of those he leads and make them more together than any of them could be alone.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Start with what you know

     I am currently a college student studying electrical engineering.  Recently I came across a problem that I had no idea how to solve.  I looked through the book hoping to find some sort of inspiration, but to no avail.  There was only one thing to do.  I wrote down what I knew from the problem statement and set out to squeeze as much as information as I could out of the few details provided to me.  After a few lines a solution opened up to me and I was able to complete the problem.
     Another example of this happened when I was trying to fix my car.  Initially it was thought that the starter had died and needed to be replaced.  I wasn't sure where the starter was locacted to even begin working with it.  I thought that maybe I should start with the battery and then follow the cables until it led me to the starter, but I wasn't sure if that path would be productive.  I called my dad for advice and he confirmed my suspicion that following the battery cables would lead me to the starter.
     I followed the battery cables, but still wasn't sure if what I had found was the starter so I called someone else who could come look at my car and give me more direct help.  The first thing my friend did was to check the battery.  I had already tried jumping the car with no luck and was convinced that it must be the starter.  We removed the battery and went to get it tested.  The voltage low enough that the battery wouldn't charge from being jumped by another car, and so we had the battery trickle charged.  After an hour I recieved a call saying that the battery was beyond hope, but that because I was still under the warranty I could get a new battery free of charge.
     I learned an important lesson from these experiences; one that will serve me well in my engineering career and in life in general.  Start with what you know.  It seems like a simple thing, but there is often great power in simple things.
     In solving most any problem you can organize what is given to you and then you can expand what is given using what you already know until you are able to solve the problem.  In solving my engineering problems it is often necessary to rearrange information and look at it in a different way.  I have to keep my mind open and be willing to do work that may not directly help me to solve the problem, but leads me to other options that do allow me to discover a solution.
     I am not always able to solve the problem at hand immediately, but rather am shown what questions I must ask so that I can solve the problem.
     I have found that this is also an excellent way to learn new things.  Find something that interests you and, using what you know, make your best guess about what it is and how it works and then proceed to fill in the gaps.
     To continue on with the example of an engine.  My younger brother recieved a dirt bike for Christmas.  It needs some repairs to make it run and so my brother and I get to work on it together.  I have a little knowledge of how an engine works and by applying what little I know I can see what else there is to know.  If I were to simple look at it and guess how to fix it I would be at a complete loss, but by knowing that gas and oxygen need to mix together and be ignited by a spark I can check if that process is happening correctly.  If it is I can move on to the next thing I know, if not I can learn more about that process and fix it.  
     Some problems may take more work and ingenuity than others, but with any problem, you have to start somewhere, so you might as well start with what you know.