Under Control


There are six disciplines or virtues that make an engineer or manager a professional in the same sense that an athlete, artist, or soldier is considered professional. These six disciplines include 1) physical rectitude, 2) mental forbearance, 3) temperate habits, 4) magic and an ear for the ineffable, and 6) dedication.

Physical rectitude. You gotta stay in shape. Normally, I jog several times a week, several miles per time. I'm 64 years old. You should exercise until you can't think about anything except stopping. Chess players prepare for a big match by exercising, just as boxers do. Tuning the power supply for the wet computer is only good maintenance.

Mental forbearance. Think only about the work. It is the only thing worth thinking about. As do artists and scientists. A master stone mason thinks, dreams, and works in stone, not wood. Work a problem over and over until it snaps into place. Focus on the calling and ignore the distractions. Don't worry about being politically correct or will balanced of someone you admire. Your calling is music that only you can hear.

Temperate habits. Recognize and correct your bad habits. Since every task is different, adapt behavior to the task at hand. The idea is to take risks, make mistakes, and experiment. Most of us still take courses or attend seminars. Don't get credentials, get educated. Don't get caught up in technical drool. Stick to the basics and analyze history for the future.

Correct behavior. As the fundamental underpinnings of emergent objects, individual behavior patterns determine overall performance. Some of the rules are: don't brag' it's okay to look bad or foolish' be an egoist; dream; don't fight it; never hit the brakes; never be satisfied; and get over it.

Magic and an ear for the ineffable. You get zero points for just doing a good job. As an NBA coach recently said, "Everyone's got to have an angle." Magic and clash generate confidence in you and the customer. Go fast, be hungry, and act as if you're the oldest inspired adolescent in town. Store up your bag of tricks and attack. think of the big athletes, and their hair colors.

Dedication. This is the last of my irreverent advice. Live the trade. Be loyal, not to your company, but to the music. Work with the best tools, whether they be computers or brushes. Eat Ramen and drink Jolt. Don't get comfortable. Find the challenge. Choose your parents well. One of the interview questions for real techies is, "Do you remember your children's birth dates?" If there answer is yes, their credentials are suspect.

Can one be taught, or learn, to be professional? Probably not. You have to have it in the genes. If you got it, let it our. Otherwise, go into marketing.

I conclude with two of the mottoes I live by:

P.S. As yo undoubtedly know, I'm not the fist heavy thinker to come up with a list of virtues like this. The ancient Roman Cicero wrote De Officiis, or "On Duties," as a series of letters to his son advising him as to the proper way to conduct himself in public life. Being a more practiced philosopher than me, his list of virtues included only three.

In the same year Julius Caesar was assassinated, Cicero wrote:

The necessity to acquire and maintain the circumstances in which men conduct the business of life is the sphere of [wisdom, courage, and temperance]. The purpose is to preserve human society and relationships and to allow the distinction and scope of a man's character to reveal itself, as he increases resources and advantages for himself and his dependents, but even more as he begins to understand that such things are not of the highest value. This area also includes discipline and self-control and moderation and similar qualities, in which some action is brought to bear, not merely the activity of the mind. By maintaining a certain moderation and order in the practical affairs of life we shall preserve goodness and decorum.

Final note: Some of you may have read one or more of our occasional columns on Chaos theory. If you want to learn more about possible applications of Chaos theory in manufacturing, a conference is being held in Santa Fe on April 8 to 11. For more information, go to Chaos@barn.org

As appeared in Manufacturing Systems Magazine March 1997 Page 92

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