Sweat the small stuff

I recently had to get some air-conditioning work done at home. The first time that was necessary (years ago, after moving to the US from Scotland where a/c means opening the window), we opted for a relatively cheap and local guy. After that was disappointing we moved up to a less cheap but still local company. Most recently though, after further disappointment, we went to one of the the better big firms and that’s who we called this time. A few observations then, applicable to Professional Services as a whole. Continue reading

Othismos and the fine structure of mastery

As usual I’m tussling with the question: Why are some engineers just so much more effective than everyone else?; my current line of thinking being provoked by a series of books by Steven Pressfield.

First, let’s take with a pinch of salt the current flavor-of-day idea that “10,000 hours of deliberate practice” is both necessary and sufficient to achieve “world class performance”. Even K. Anders Ericsson, one of the academics involved in the research upon which that idea tries to sit, has gone to the length of writing a rebuttal article (MS Word), to try to tone down some of the hype. But let’s at least consider, for argument’s sake, the following as unobjectionable.

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An antidote to passion

Call me a cynical old git, but the whole “find your passion” thing has worn very thin on me over the past few years. It’s not that I think loving what you do and doing it with energy is inherently bad, but it seems to me that once you start focusing on that — on “my passion” — you have to take your focus off the thing you are doing and, just as (if not more) problematic, off the person for whom you are doing  it. Seeking your passion seems reminiscent of “the pursuit of happiness”; a pretty sure way of *not* finding it (or, at least, of discovering that when you do find it, it wasn’t really what you were looking for). Continue reading

Organizational Habituation

There’s a bit of a habit bandwagon on the move at the moment, with a rash of books, software apps, and so forth all helping us to understand the Trigger->Action->Reward structure of habitual behaviours, and how to use that understanding to build our own positive habits. In Verilab’s client work, and beyond that to other SMEs with whom I work, however, I’ve noticed what appears to be, in the group environment and even overall organization, a strong analog of habits in the individual person. I dislike gratuitous creation of neologisms, so I’ve looked for a phrase to denote this phenomenon, but haven’t been able to find one. So I’m naming it now. I’m calling it “Organizational Habituation”. Continue reading

Are Engineers Creative?

Are we creative, we engineers and programmers? I think fewer of us are than we think, but more of us need to be than are (although it’s not essential that we all are).

It’s probably useful to define creativity, because it could be argued that engineers — people who “engineer” things — are creative by definition. I don’t think so. Creativity is the ability to make something, change something, or do something that creates positive surprise in one’s peers. It goes above and beyond just “the new”. It must elicit, from those who appreciate and understand your field, an appreciative “Huh!?”

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Code Class as Soul Craft

We look for “proxies for greatness” in potential new members of the Verilab team. It can take some time to find out if someone is good, because in the end “good” in this context means something like “consistently delivering desired results”, and you can only see that over time. But there are clues early on that a person may be, or may become, good. Those are the P’s for G.

One is mentioned by philosopher-turned-mechanic, Matthew Crawford in his Shop Class as Soulcraft. In chapter eight, “The Further Education of a Gearhead: From Amateur to Professional” he tells the story “Of Madness, a Magna, and Metaphysics” in which he takes on the task of bringing back to life an old and neglected-by-underuse 1983 Honda Magna V45. A key part of the repair was fixing the clutch hydraulics. Continue reading