We Once Carried It All In Our Heads…

Slide Rule

Engineering Before Computers

Now it’s in our cell phones as back in the day when I walked a mile to the bus stop in the dead of winter to make my way to school (true story) I would then take my seat in class and pull out a piece of wood.  This was no ordinary piece of wood it was special in that it had numbers and markings painted on it along with the ability to slide back and forth.  While in this day there were plastic versions (made in Japan no doubt) of my wooden stick, however it just felt right to stay with the tried and true lumber rather than the new fangled plastic do-dads.

This stick also used no solar power and not even was there a battery compartment to be found on it.  It was operated by shear man power which drove the tool of [this] the modern information age.  This was the venerable “slide rule“, the supreme tool of the day to solve the world’s problems and bet you dollars to donuts if you asked a kid today to do complex math on a stick of wood, well let say that would be an interesting conversation at the least.  However I’m not here to wax about the old days, I’m here to talk about today.

Today kids will just whip out their internet connected smart phone and either engage a “smart app” to perform the rote calculations which would leave slivers in my fingers back in the days of old, or they will just Google it and like Emeril Lagasse would say “Bam” there it is.  However in the old days this knowledge was in our head and not our phones.  We didn’t need the connection of a 3G signal to get us to the answer as we also had to understand the problem.

Today’s brave new world however is a different place all together and does one really need to know the details to the solution for a “solution” to be a solution or is it only an answer?  This is the problem we are facing today in a connected world as if you spend your time on the answer, when do you find time for the solution? Now this might sound like I am mixing words and while there might be a little poetic license at play here, the issue is sound as the complexity of our problems are now standing on the shoulders of the problems which came before them.

Thus if your means of “solving” a problem doesn’t also stand on the shoulders of past solutions, will the problems simply outpace us?  The interesting side bar which got me to thinking about this is the cultural trend to wear ones baseball cap backwards (as I am doing while writing this post).  Ok, once you’re done chuckling let’s look at the logic.  If we hadn’t worn the cap forward facing in the first place, then we could not have worn it backwards.  Therefore this cultural advance, yes you read that correctly “cultural” advance as stated anthropologically is built upon the shoulders of its predecessor (the forward facing version).

Thus this analogy albeit simple as most of us older folks will look at someone within the “new culture” movement who is sporting their cap backwards as wearing it “backwards”, however are they?  Our notions of “normal” are founded upon our “conditioning“, so if we are use to a forward facing cap rim then that is normal and therefore right “in our minds“.  However for all I know there isn’t a rule in the natural world which says which way a hat rim must face as with indisputable laws of say something like gravity.

This is where “paradigms” shifts are bread, in the fertile grass lands of worlds built around “norms” which provide us comfort yet set us up for failure as roaming the same grass lands are wild bulls with ideas which break away from the “norms” with the single minded goal to find new fields in which to graze and the same is true for our old ways of problem solving.  As it’s a new a day and a new school, so as Albert Einstein once said “Never memorize what you can look up in books“.  I say “Never memorize what you can look up on your phone”…

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About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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