Leadership some random thoughts
By narayanaa on Jul 02, 2007
Lawrence Rabiner says that are some key thoughts about how to succeed in whatever occupation you choose.
- Be enthusiastic and passionate about your work. -- Your creativity is directly proportional to the time that you think about your work, and this just happens naturally when you love what you do and can’t wait to get to work each day. The adventure of discovery and invention awaits those who are passionate about their jobs, and almost all new ideas come from people who own every aspect of their working lives.
- Sweat the details of what you do. -- Almost everyone gets good ideas about the work they are doing, and many of these good ideas make significant differences to the success of a project. Without carrying each good idea to a stage where it can be evaluated in some prototype or testbed system, however, you never know whether the idea is a great one only in theory (but doesn’t work well in practice) or is one of those ideas that change the way a technology plays out in the marketplace and in the world of technology.
- Neatness counts in everything you do.-- No matter how caught up you get in the day-to-day details, it is essential that you develop habits related to good organization and management of your resources, your work projects, and your life. At some point you will have to access past results, prior data records, and stored records of experimental results. Without an organized process to rely on, you will spend most of your time looking for information that should be at your fingertips. Although the messy desk is often the cinematic characterization of the “mad but brilliant engineer,” it is generally the real-life characterization of the “sloppy and disorganized” individual who doesn’t have his priorities straight and tends to pay most attention to things at the top of the pile. Although people often function without having any sense of neatness or organization, eventually this bad habit has a way of catching up and causing major problems, generally at times of extreme stress. So it is best to avoid the problem initially by realizing the importance of neatness and organization.
- Present your work and your ideas early and often. -- Communication skills are probably the most important thing an engineer can develop once he or she has learned the fundamentals of the field of endeavor. Both oral and written communication skills are essential for success, since if you can’t share your ideas and your thoughts with your colleagues, your managers, and outside audiences, you will never get the feedback and criticism that enable you to progress more rapidly and get your work accepted. A corollary of this principle is the old adage “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” This means that it is incumbent on you, the communicator, to be prepared for every presentation that you make.That means knowing your material as well as possible so that you could present it in your sleep, if necessary. It means thinking about what parts of your presentation might confuse your audience (which might be your boss or higher management) and being prepared for questions and explanations that help explain your work better. It means making sure that when you show off your work, you show it at its best, not just the first time it works.
- Write up your work on every project you do.-- Various managers have told me throughout my career that no job is really complete until you describe the work in print. I have personally found this to be the case for virtually every project in my career. Writing about your work forces you to be precise, exact, and correct. It forces you to learn things about your work that you didn’t completely understand. Finally the process of organizing and writing up work leads to many new ideas about things that were either
bypassed or never thought about because of lack of time during the course of the project.
- Teach what you have learned. -- If writing and presenting talks about your work are good, carrying this forward to the next level is even better. That means thinking globally about a body of work and converting those ideas to a tutorial lecture or tutorial paper, a short course or book chapter, and ultimately to a long course or a book. Once most individuals have worked in an area for a number of years, they have learned far more about the area than they think, and converting that knowledge to a broad publication or presentation vehicle is probably one of the most satisfying and rewarding things you can do in your career. What seems almost daunting and undoable, such as writing a full length textbook for publication, is merely a step-at-a-time exercise in self-discipline and time management. The payoff from this level of publication or presentation far exceeds the effort required to take your work to this level, and I highly recommend it for everyone with something important to say or share.
- Strive for the highest goals you can set your sights on. -- The most amazing thing about most exceptional work done in almost every field is that the individuals achieving the success were usually not the ones most people would have pointed to early on. Thus the people voted “most likely to succeed” are rarely the ones that have dared to dream beyond their capabilities and succeeded in changing the world by following their dreams to the logical conclusions. People who succeed beyond their wildest dreams have generally set their sights high and are willing to take risk and even fail. The down side of failing is the feeling that you didn’t accomplish much. The upside of failing is that you learn from your mistakes and then can grow to even greater heights in future ventures. Perhaps the greatest risk taker and biggest failure in the history of invention (prior to a pretty good success that ultimately ensued) was Thomas Alva Edison, who ran thousands of failed experiments trying to find a suitable filament for the electric light bulb, before finally discovering the carbonized thread (which later was replaced by the tungsten filament) that enabled the light bulb to shine brightly for the last 100 or so years.
- Pay attention to the gurus but not the forecasters. -- The gurus are people who have continually learned from a combination of success and failures and on balance have had a lot more successes than failures. The forecasters are generally individuals who try to stand on the shoulders of those who have succeeded and look forward at technology without ever having dirtied their hands in finding the paths through the technology maze. As such, the gurus teach us about the past and give us guidance for the most likely paths to pursue in the future. The forecasters merely try to extrapolate from what they perceive are the technological successes, without the benefit of knowledge gleaned from the failures and the abortive attempts at progress. Perhaps the only valuable forecaster tool is the famous Moore’s law of semiconductors which states that VLSI technology will double in density and halve in price every 18 months. Even that law is more of a guiding principle than a scientific law as there is no basis in theory for this law, but the practice certainly follows the law, and thus the forecasters know that they can rely on this for guidance as to future capabilities of technology.
- Show respect for everyone with whom you come into contact. -- We all lead busy lives with far too much to do in a mere 24-hour day. Since the laws of nature prevent us from getting additional time each day, we tend to prioritize work according to value received and potential impact. That often means we disregard requests for help, don’t answer email messages, avoid returning calls, and generally choose who we will talk to and whom we will avoid. Unfortunately this prevents many of us from getting to know students and colleagues who ask for help but find no responses to their messages or phone calls. We should all consider this a form of pro bono work and payback for the opportunities we have to contribute to society, by making a commitment to interact and help out anyone in need, especially students and lower level colleagues. The extra effort will be well rewarded over time.