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I want to start this week’s newsletter by wishing you all a happy Solstice, 9:28 a.m. Dec 21st. Why is this happy news? It means the days will be getting longer which can only mean spring will be here before we know it. The solstice was celebrated by the ancient Celtic people for thousands of years. This was a time when the possibility of not surviving the winter because of the cold or lack of food or illness was very real. When there was no electricity (blasphemy!) the longest night of the year and the inability to move around because of the cold and snow must have been terrifying. It is no wonder they celebrated the Solstice, the time when the nights got shorter and the days longer and the promise of spring and new life was very real.
Is it fear?
I am currently reading the 6th Book of the Dune series and I came across an interesting quote, “Face your fears or they will climb up your back and over your head.” There are certain things that we as engineers do not want to do. I don’t know if it is fear that keeps us from doing them, but whether it is or not, ignoring them will not make them go away. I am talking about doing what needs to be done. This might be proper documentation. It might be cleaning up a schematic so it is more readable, making notes on it to explain a particular decision. It might be testing out a new idea before committing it to a design, don’t bother, “It is so simple, it has to work.” Famous last words.
I think if there is anything that is a bane of engineering it is procrastination. We put off what we don’t want to do for another time. I am sure we don’t tell ourselves, “Oh, I will do that when it brings the line down and upper-management’s attention is focused on my bad habits.” Like not having time to put gas in the car until it runs dry, not doing the distasteful things has a habit of climbing our backs when we don’t face them.
You may not have time to do it right, but you will always have time to do it again, seems to be a recurring theme. But is it the fault of the engineer? There is blame enough to go around. There are organizations that have engineering always designing (and why not that is what we do, right?) but never documenting, never quite finishing the job. Now you don’t have to make your engineers do documentation, perhaps you have a post design group that does all the documentation and gets the paperwork ready for production, great. However, if no one is responsible for doing that step, then it becomes a mis-step. Not completing the documentation and passing it off to production is like taking the time to pick out the best color, buying the best paint, doing an excellent job of painting the room and then leaving the empty cans laying around; the paint brushes and rollers dripping with paint, the drop cloths strewn across the furniture and floors.
The care and feeding of corporations
It might be engineer Jim’s fault or Manager Jane’s, it might be a legacy system that caused the collapse. At the end of the day it is not about who’s fault it was. The corporation needs our attention, our care to make it grow and succeed. In turn it pays our mortgages, feeds our families and clothes our children.
In nature there is a relationship called Symbiosis. We have all heard of it, but what we probably don’t know is that there are actually four kinds of symbiosis: Commensalism, Parasitism, Mutualism and Endosymbiosis. Commensalism is when one organism benefits from the relationship while the other is neither helped nor harmed. An example of this is the relationship between cattle and the egrets. The egrets are birds that eat insects that are disturbed by the cattle’s grazing. The egrets clearly benefit while the cattle get very little in return. Parasitism is when one organism benefits at the expense of the other. Fleas and mosquitoes feed off the blood of another organism. Another example is the relationship between aphid’s and plants. They line my rosebushes each year literally sucking the life out of my rosebushes. Mutualism is a close relationship where both parties benefit and the relationship is long lasting. The relationship between shrimp and the goby fish for example. The shrimp digs a hole in the sea floor and both live there. Because the shrimp is almost blind, the goby fish will touch the shrimp when a predator is near. Finally, Endosymbiosis is when one species lives inside of another. Protozoans that live inside of termites and help them digest wood are an example of this type of relationship.
There are many parallels between nature and commerce. If we took the time, I am sure we could come up with examples of all four types of symbiosis in corporate America. Clearly both the Employer and the Employed will both benefit the most when that relationship can be described as Mutualism. In that relationship companies not only provide compensation but opportunity for the employee, while the employee does not just show up, but cares about doing the work in a way the is beneficial to the company and helps the company be successful.
Midway through writing this newsletter I took part in the Solstice Blood drive at a Red Cross Mobile Van. I realized that the Red Cross, as an entity, is in a symbiotic relationship with both its donors and its recipients and yet it does not in itself benefit from the relationship other than to exist. I could not quite classify this type of relationship. Perhaps doing what needs to be done, at times, goes beyond classification.
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