Of all the lessons I learned in high school, none has stuck with me more than the humanities lecture I received on the Golden Mean. Given my chosen field of avocation, I don’t think it is a coincidence that a philosophy associating beauty, truth, and mathematics would resonate with me over the years. As a result, anytime I find myself at a crossroads when making a decision, I make certain that I know not only which option I want to pick, but also both extremes of the available options.
As I enter 2018, I find myself back at a crossroads that I seem to visit rather often—Do I take the creative path or the reactive path? During previous visits to this juncture, I was working as a consultant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I tended to lean toward the creative path. After all, my clients were reacting and bringing problems to my doorstep looking for a creative solution. I needed a bag full of creative solutions on-hand when they arrived!
Today, I am in-house at an engineering firm. I don’t think I will surprise any of you when I say that engineers tend to be risk-adverse. As a consultant you live in a “start-up” world where budgets tend to be heavy in R&D because the “big one” is always right around the corner. At an established engineering firm, you are locked into market rates for services and don’t have a lot of opportunities to upcharge for a creative solution. Growth requires a high percentage of hours to be billable, which means entire departments of CPAs and a relentless focus on staff productivity through billable hours. The result is that you get stuck in “reaction” mode.
I don’t want to do that. But I no longer have my big R&D budget. So, what’s a guy to do?
Well, I can’t do it all, that’s for sure. The reality of my current situation means that I will have to place time restrictions on myself. In the past, I’ve done this by choosing certain technologies to follow while others have had to fall off of my radar. However, that approach burned me last year. I wrote off using UAVs in production and focused elsewhere—until external forces made my error obvious. This forced me to double up on R&D in that area to make up the lost ground. I’d like to avoid that as well this year.
After staring at those two words for some time this past weekend, it suddenly hit me that “creative” and “reactive” are both made of the same letters. The only difference is where you see the “c.” If you see it first, it’s creative. If you see “re” first, it’s not. It’s an important distinction given the meaning of the prefix “re-”. While the primary meaning of the prefix is “again,” the secondary meaning is “back” or “backward.” The more I look at it, the more I’m struck by the idea that when you fail to create, you are forced to react, or to go back and see what you missed “c-ing.” [Editor: grooooan. =)]
So, this year, I am resolved to spend more time seeing, and a bit less doing in the R&D department. Hopefully this will allow me to be able to react more quickly, as I won’t acquire the immense overhead of time formulating production procedures for technologies we may never use.
I think that the acquisition of information is probably the least costly bit of the entire R&D process, since it’s mostly just reading and a bit of conference attendance. My goal is 10 hours a week, combined, on R&D this year. Admittedly, some of this will have to be outside of work hours i.e. on my own time. Good thing I enjoy the things I work with!
Is this the golden mean I am hoping for? I don’t know. And I probably won’t know until this time next year. However, I know the extremes of simply waiting to react, or trying to create a new market from scratch, are paths I do not want to take. How are you guys charting that path this year?