Think and Do

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Think and do.  So states the slogan of my Alma mater, North Carolina State University.  I do love my university, and look at all the achievements and accomplishments with great pride.

Recently, reading a self-help article made me think about the “Think and Do” slogan.  The article listed what characteristics will make an individual a high performer.  The first trait was the ability to focus more effort to know and act.  To not just think all the time, but to also spend equal or more time and resources knowing and acting, even if the picture or plan is not yet fully realized or complete.

Ideas, projects, or initiatives begin with a thought.  “How can we…”, or “What would happen if…” are often asked.  The genesis of a new idea is just but a thought.  How much technology in history came from an idea?  But at some point, there needs to be action.  Things need to be understood, and then acted upon.

I remember growing up playing on computers throughout the 1980’s, and when I became a bit more financially independent, I would peruse through many computer magazines, looking at new technology in the release pipeline.  New computers with faster processors or new versions of video cards were always just a month or two away.  If not careful, people could be waiting indefinitely because as soon as a new model was on the market, the next iteration was already being advertised.  At some point, I had to put some money down on what was available, otherwise I would forever be waiting for the next thing.

Thinking and planning can fall into a similar trap.  Always planning and waiting can be detrimental to progress and innovation for any organization.  Waiting for the right market conditions, or waiting for some levels of technology can paralyze companies from taking action.  Inaction will always lead to trailing the leaders.

Think and plan, but be sure to incorporate action into the project or initiative.  Sure there’ll be innovations down the road.  New versions of a software package, new laws that could affect business practice, or different trends in the industry may impact an organization.  But for those who idle and are constantly in a planning phase will never be able to take the initiative and be a leading industry.

So plan accordingly and think things through, but account for the need for acting.  Not just in business, but also in life.

Think and do.

 

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The Art of the Solution

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Moaning about the nature of things is easy.  Groaning about processes and procedures can be achieved with minimal effort.  Every day, teams will work through problems, and will often have bull sessions where they gripe about the nature of things at the office.  Work processes and procedures that may not make sense, customers may be difficult to work with.  Virtually everyone can agree on the inefficiencies of the government bureaucratic machine.  We may not all agree upon politics, but rest assured, most people can agree on this point.

As you enter the workforce, be focused on not just the problems, but what can be done about them.  Everyone can complain about an inefficient procurement process.  Everyone can also complain about workflows that add time to customer checkouts and returns.  Management will not place much value on those who can identify the problems.  Most of the time, they’ve heard it all before.  Given them a solution as well.

As a manager of an Information Technology service desk, I heard many of the problems of our staff.  We were too small.  We were responsible for too many physical locations.  The computer purchasing process made little sense.  These points were not new to me, and in my own limited way, I tried to improve and streamline where I could.  What I did not hear much of was solutions to these problems.  I appreciated the efforts of the team to identify what needed improvement, as any manager would.

While I studied for my MBA, our capstone class called for the students to form into groups and start a company.  We discussed ideas for our project, and began our work to research and develop a business model and plan.  However, the key takeaway from this class for me was the professor telling us to find out what sucks, and then improve it.  Such a simple idea.  Maybe a little blunt, but so simple.  Businesses come and go, but if you identify a problem and come up with a solution, your chances for success and profit will increase.

As you enter the workforce, and as you begin your journey into a hopeful fruitful and prosperous career, adopt the mindset of a problem solver, not just a problem identifier.  An individual who solves problems will add much value.  Maybe a solution is not attainable, or laws prohibit changing of a process, but in many instances, take a problem, and a solution, to management.  You will be adding value to the organization, and in many instances, you may be the one who spearheads the project.

Complaining is easy.  Take a further step to research and come up with a solution.  Your manager will thank you, and you will take steps to further your career in the process.  People who provide solutions will always be in demand for any organization.

Take the Leap, but Know How to Fly

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“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off.  Build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury and the golden age of science fiction are synonymous, and is one of the titans of the genre.  “Fahrenheit 451”, “The Martian Chronicles”, and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” are all considered among the classics of the genre.  Bradbury’s idea of jumping off the cliff, and building your wings on the way down is quite imaginative and daring, but can also be useful for motivating and challenging yourself in a professional manner.

Not a literal interpretation, obviously, but his idea is appealing.  Sometimes we all can get into a good comfort zone.  We know the job, and are proficient with the skills required.  We know the environment and the people.  In these situations, a week turns into a month, months turn into a year, and soon, years have gone by.  We may be happy with our position, and hopefully have worked up the hierarchy of the organization.  But in the end, the years may become routine and time has a funny way of blurring together, rushing into the future in a blink of an eye.  Is this a recipe for greatness?  I do not believe so.

Exactly what does Bradbury mean?  Should be jump into the unknown, and figure it out along the way?  Should you walk out of the office today, and start something new without any preparation or planning?  Realistically, most of us are not in a position to do this.  Family and financial obligations often dictate what we need to do, but Bradbury makes a great point.  That is, to challenge yourself.  To shock your system out of a comfort zone.  In times of strife, turmoil, and sometimes failure, we can grow to great extents.  Comfort zones are not known for creating dynamic careers.

Should you leap down the cliff, before giving any thought on how to build your wings?  I would argue this would be a resounding ‘no’.  Should you learn about what makes wings fly?  Should you study the flight of birds, or how airplanes fly?  Yes!  Perhaps you should have some knowledge of atmospheric pressures and the physics of lift.  If you spend time learning and growing, only then when you leap off the cliff, you will have some degrees of knowledge to build your wings.

Anyone can make a leap into the unknown.  The rocks at the base of the cliff are littered with the corpses of those who leapt before they were prepared for the change.  They wanted change too much, but were not prepared for it.  Spend enough time to have a good foundation that can adapt to change, and you will greatly increase your odds of success.  Do not spend too much time preparing that you never take the chance.  Leap off the cliff with confidence and determination, and know that through preparation, you will build your wings and soar into the skies above.  The sky is the limit.

Align Your Reality and Appearance

A reputation is priceless.  Your reputation is free, and requires no investment of money, nor does it require specific levels of education.  Reputations are difficult to manage and can be your foundation for professional excellence, being a good manager, or perhaps an inspirational leader.  It is the bedrock, your foundation, and works in tandem with work ethic, knowledge, and perseverance.  Reputations can be as hard as diamonds, but they can be fragile.  A moment’s indiscretion can shatter what took years to build, and in some cases, may never quite recover.  Ask former Tour-de-France champion, Lance Armstrong.

Ancient philosophers in the pre-Socrates age often argued and theorized on the nature of reality.  What is reality?  What are things made of?  Is everything just an illusion?  Over time, the nature of the argument of reality versus appearance can take on a different meaning.

Your reputation can be based more on appearance than reality, for right or wrong.  You may be a good worker, knowledgeable and dedicated, but if others see you differently, your appearance will be more real than reality.  Young workers, and those just starting out in a new career need to fully appreciate this, and should focus on aligning these two into a single component.

Always reflect on your words and actions.  You may be a hard worker, but if you are gossiping or do not communicate well with others, the reality of your reputation may be different than you realize.  Do you “tell it like it is” and feel you are honest and provide valuable insight?  Place yourself in others’ shoes and see things from a different perspective.  Perhaps you are correct and you feel as if you made a positive difference.  What if others may see you as arrogant and self-righteous instead?  What is the reality of your reputation at this point?  Will you be the direct, but helpful manager, leader, or co-worker, or will you be viewed as something else?  Will you be effective in a team environment when your appearance is less than ideal?

Reality and appearance can be one in and same, or they can be quite different.  The more different these two are, the stronger likelihood your reputation is diminished.  Always focus on your actions, mannerisms, and your words in all your interactions.  Take the time to reflect on yourself every day, and identify what you can do to manage yourself better.

As a young worker, your actions and reputation are all you will have at the beginning.    However, your actions and reputation, when properly managed and maintained can be strong enough to build your foundation.  As you learn and grow, this foundation will ensure your success, and will always be there.  But you need to take care of it and maintain it.  Even a mansion, if not properly maintained, will crumble and degrade.

Understand that appearance can be more real than reality.  For right or wrong, people are not able to glimpse into your mind, but can only see your appearance and your actions.  In the age of miscommunication, intolerance, and increasing isolation, take the time to ensure your reality and appearance are in sync.  Then your foundation will be solid and firm, and your successes will grow.

John Aaron, Steely-Eyed Missile Man

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The behemoth stands out, tall and mighty.  It’s alive, hissing and groaning.  The metallic surface expands and contracts from the cool fuel loads within, creaking and pinging.  Three brave men stand at the foot of this beast, glancing up, craning their necks to see the top.  The mighty Saturn V stands tall, 363 feet high, and weighs approximately 6,500,000 pounds.  All except the astronaut support crew vacates the area, leaving these brave men to their fate.  Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Richard Gordon ride the elevator to the top and strap in for one rough and intense flight.

The crew of Apollo 12 are heading to the moon.  Conrad will command this mission, but the public already questioning why we’re heading back.  “We’ve already landed on the moon,” they say as interest becomes fleeting.  “Couldn’t the money be used for other things?”  The afternoon of November 14, 1969, the silence breaks with the deafening roar of the main stage engines, powering up to their full 7,000,000 pounds of thrust.

The Saturn V slowly climbs into the air, passing the launch tower.  The mission starts, and the three astronauts begin their voyage into space.  In spite of the rainy weather, NASA proceeds with the launch, but soon regrets this decision.  Shortly into the flight, lightning strikes the rocket, placing the mission in jeopardy.  Telemetry is lost, and various power problems are plaguing the control systems.  Many warning lights are flashing on the control panels.  Mission Control scrambles, trying to figure out what’s going on.

The astronauts report many problems; warnings light up on all over their control systems.  It’s quickly realized that lightning struck the rocket, traveling back their ionized trail, striking the launch pad as seen by ground crews, even captured on film.

“Try SCE to aux,” calls John Aaron, one of the many young flight controllers.  A fairly obscure switch, among the many switches in the spacecraft, unknown to Flight Director Gerald Griffin, CAPCOM Gerald Carr, and ealso Mission Commander Pete Conrad.

“What the Hell is that,” says Conrad over the radio before setting the switch, which restore the systems, allowing the flight to continue.  Lightning strikes the rocket, and the problem is addressed in about a minute and a half, all while the astronauts are climbing with pressure increasing up to four times their weight.

The Steely-Eyed Missile Man

John Aaron was one of many young flight controllers during the Apollo program.  Only twenty-six at the time of Apollo 12, his call saved the flight, and quite possibly the lives of the three astronauts.  His knowledge of the systems provided insight to reach the solution.  It wasn’t a random flip of a switch to see what would happen.  A year earlier, Aaron noticed unusual telemetry readings during a test at the Kennedy Space Center.  On his own initiative, he traced the anomaly back to the Signal Conditioning Electronics (SCE) system, and was one of the few controllers familiar with it.  Aaron researched and learned more about the systems, which produced results when the time was right.

His call during the flight was bold, and even though many others were not familiar with this system, or the switch setting, his recommendation was trusted and implemented.  This decision saved the mission, and the growing budget constraints and public disinterest in further moon landings, Aaron may have saved the future of the Apollo program.

Lessons to Learn

Organizations need to learn to trust all their employees, especially Millennials.  Although they may not have years of experience within a department, they may be able to bring alternate ideas and fresh perspectives.  Had NASA adopted a stance that only personnel with certain years of experience could contribute or have ideas entertained, the Apollo 12 mission may have ended in disaster.  A younger flight controller, on his own initiative, learned the system and made a recommendation that saved the mission.  Many younger and lesser experienced workers on the team may not have years of experience, but they often have good ideas and knowledge, which should be taken into consideration.  Each organization needs to ask how many of their twenty-something employees contribute to the direction and vision?  Would any of these employees be able to step up and be heard?

If you’re starting out in a career, with not much experience, seek every opportunity to learn and grow.  Absorb all the experience and knowledge of others.  Do you see a problem in your department or organization?  Learn about what the root causes are and propose a fix for it.  Do not, ever, take the mindset that you are not qualified or it’s beyond your realm of responsibility.  Always be respectful, but question the status quo.  Learn and grow, and you may save the day.

Always remember, the astronauts received much of the acclaim and parades for successful missions, but it was many very young engineers, flight controllers, and scientists that contributed greatly to the success of the early space program.  Many of these young workers made mission critical calls and in the case of John Aaron, their decision saved the day, earning a promotion into the “steely-eyed missile man” club, usually reserved for fighter pilots and astronauts during this time.  Organizations who learn to listen and are receptive to new ideas, products, or possible solutions from all levels of skill sets and experience will often be more innovative to new trends.

Launch Transcript:

Public Affairs Office – “40 seconds.”

000:00:42 Carr: Mark.

000:00:43 Carr: One Bravo.

000:00:43 Conrad (onboard): Roger. We had a whole bunch of buses drop out.

000:00:44 Conrad: Roger. We [garble] on that. [Long pause.]

000:00:45 Bean (onboard): There’s nothing – it’s nothing …

000:00:47 Gordon (onboard): A circuit …

000:00:48 Conrad (onboard): Where are we going?

000:00:50 Gordon (onboard): I can’t see; there’s something wrong.

000:00:51 Conrad (onboard): AC Bus 1 light, all the fuel cells …

000:00:56 Conrad (onboard): I just lost the platform.

Public Affairs Office – “Altitude a mile and a half now. Velocity 1,592 feet per second.”

000:01:00 Bean: [Garble] Got your GDC.

000:01:02 Conrad: Okay, we just lost the platform, gang. I don’t know what happened here; we had everything in the world drop out.

000:01:08 Carr: Roger.

Public Affairs Office – “Plus one.”

000:01:09 Gordon (onboard): I can’t – There’s nothing I can tell is wrong, Pete.

000:01:12 Conrad: I got three fuel cell lights, an AC bus light, a fuel cell disconnect, AC bus overload 1 and 2, Main Bus A and B out. [Long pause.]

000:01:21 Bean (onboard): I got AC.

000:01:22 Conrad (onboard): We got AC?

000:01:23 Bean (onboard): Yes.

000:01:24 Conrad (onboard): Maybe it’s just the indicator. What do you got on the main bus?

000:01:26 Bean (onboard): Main bus is – The volt indicated is 24 volts.

000:01:29 Conrad (onboard): Huh?

000:01:30 Bean (onboard): Twenty-four volts, which is low.

000:01:33 Conrad (onboard): We’ve got a short on it of some kind. But I can’t believe the volt…

000:01:36 Carr: Apollo 12, Houston. Try SCE to auxiliary. Over.

000:01:39 Conrad: Try FCE to Auxiliary. What the hell is that?

000:01:41 Conrad: NCE to auxiliary…

000:01:42 Gordon (onboard): Fuel cell…

000:01:43 Carr: SCE, SCE to auxiliary. [Long pause.]

000:01:45 Conrad (onboard): Try the buses. Get the buses back on the line.

000:01:48 Bean (onboard): It looks – Everything looks good.

000:01:50 Conrad (onboard): SCE to Aux.

000:01:52 Gordon (onboard): The GDC is good.

000:01:54 Conrad (onboard): Stand by for the – I’ve lost the event timer; I’ve lost the…

Public Affairs Office – “Comm reports the reading is back.”