Trying New Things

Several years ago I got a call from a neighbor. Her young son had a part in a play and she said the director needed some adults for some of the parts. She asked if I would want to try out. Keep in mind I have never acted in a play before. The play was James and the Giant Peach. Children had most of the parts and the director wanted four adults to play the parts of the four bugs. I read the story many years ago and did not remember much about it. I assumed that the bugs played a minor part and so I went in to try out.

I tried out and they chose me to play the part of the Grasshopper. The Grasshopper narrates the story of the play; it is not a minor part! although a little nervous about it I thought, how hard can it be? Other people do it. So I accepted the role and did my best and learned a new thing. I had a lot of fun and can say I would do that again. In fact, I did! I performed in a community theater performance of Seussical the Musical and had a blast again.

I read an article that tells of Prince planning to do a solo piano and microphone tour. In it he explains why he wants to put down his guitar and perform on piano alone on stage:

“Why do this now? For several reasons. For starters it is a challenge. I rarely get bad reviews because this is something that’s been perfected 4 over thirty years. You have to try new things.

Do not fear taking on new parts or roles in life. Try something new. How hard can it be? You will learn something new along the way and you just might find you like it!

 

Tell Your Story

Every product tells a story. What story does your product tell? Can you clearly identify it’s theme? What plot takes you from beginning to end? What characterization helps your user get around? What style distinguishes yours from the rest?

The New Assignment

When you get a new assignment, stand back and look at the big picture. How does it contribute to the company objectives? What do you know know about the assignment? What do you not know about it? Where can you find more information about it? You should start in the beginning to find the answers to these questions so that you do not spend too much time wandering around trying to figure out what to do.

Design

It is easy to make a program that is right, faster. It is difficult to make a program that is fast, right.
— Michael A. Jackson (1936- )

When you work on a solution to a problem, you should first aim at creating something that works. Concentrate on doing it right. Include everything that comes to mind in your design and make it all work together. After you have a design that works, that accomplishes your desired end, then go about the business of making it fast, making it lean, making it fit.

A designer knows he has arrived at perfection, not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)

Once you have made it right, you will want to eliminate everything that does not directly help your design accomplish its purpose. This includes works of art as well as works of engineering. That book you wrote? Remove all that does not help the story. That painting you want to do? Remove all that does not portray the message of your work. That program you wrote? Take out the bells and whistles that a user will never use.  That life you live? Take out the clutter and excess action. This process make take some time. The time you spend will make your efforts worthwhile.

The result of a year’s work depends more on what is struck out than on what is left in, on the sequence of the main lines of thought, than on their play and variety. — Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)

Strive to make every one of your designs a focused piece of work. Make it right, make it strong, make it clear, make it simple, make it meaningful. Nobody will misunderstand your design when you do that.

Why Do We Fall?

In Batman Begins, Alfred Pennyworth said, “Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up again.” Although this line sounds good, it fails to capture the real reason for the fall. We fall because we act on some incorrect premises. We have made bad assumptions about the situation; acting on those assumptions resulted in a fall. Think about any fall you have had. Stubbed your toe? Embarrassed yourself by something you said to your friend? The program you wrote fail to work properly for your customer? In all these instances, you mistakenly assumed some untrue things about the situation. You assumed that you had a clear path to walk. You assumed your friend would react more understandingly. You assumed that you had found all the errors in your code.

Although Pennyworth’s statement does not really explain why we fall, it points out a very important fact—we should learn from our falls. What should we learn? We should learn which of our premises we need to change. The fall gives us the opportunity to examine our premises and make adjustments. If we realize that acting on incorrect premises or bad assumptions caused our fall, we then can search for better premises to use in the future. We must then adjust our premises or we may fall again in much the same way.

After you pick yourself up from your next fall, take a moment to think about what you assumed prior to the fall. Determine more appropriate assumptions and then move forward with confidence that your previous assumption will not cause you to fall again. At the same time, realize that other assumptions may still cause you to fall again and prepare yourself to learn from future falls, as well.

Focus and Concentration

Where do you focus your attention? Do you focus on one thing or does your focus jump from one thing to another, never staying in one place long enough to really accomplish anything? Focus does not mean the same thing as concentration. Concentration means sustained focus combined with intense mental effort. Concentration involves time, focus does not. Think of a pair of binoculars. You look through them and adjust the focus to your eyes and the distance of the thing of interest. Focus involves pointing the binoculars and sharpening the image. It does not require sustained looks in the same direction. You can change your focus quickly or slowly. Concentration, on the other hand, involves sustained looks in the same direction while examining and trying to understand what you see.

You should include both operations when you work to solve problems. Concentrate on the problem to understand what you know and do not know about the problem. Then draw on your instincts and let inspiration give you an idea of where to start. Scan the environment for hints about how other people have solved the problem, focusing on everything you can find. Concentrate on synthesizing a potential solution. Then concentrate on your work and solve the problem.