Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Everybody's a "--------" (<-- well meaning idiot).

Frequently at work we (engineers) get our perfect little design process upset.  A well meaning idiot (sales) will come in & tell us how to better a design.  Today that took the form of being told that a pivot shaft shouldn't move;  it has to - or the mechanism doesn't pivot.  Our salesman was stuck in truly misguided concern.

This quickly reminded me of an adventure while I was working in aircraft maintenance.  Whenever there is a plane crash it ripples through the industry.  The pain is felt by every company.  There is the pain that the FAA will induce with increased scrutiny until the cause is determined; but it is more the pain of tragic loss.  There is a strange brotherhood that exists across company lines by all workers who make the magic happen.  About 2weeks after a major airline accident we received a letter.  An engineer 20 years retired and about 40 years from school wrote us with some tidbit of info he had about fatigue strength in materials and that this was a burning concern of his and should be investigated by every airline before taking 1 more flight.  He was a well meaning idiot.  Airline engineers are peons at the bidding of the manufacturers and the FAA.  We have no power to shut down all flights.   We can't do anything about the fatigue life of materials.  The manufacturers have determined factored this into the design.  The guy was wrong on many fronts.  The punchline to it was that our director took him VERY seriously and wanted to know how to draft a letter to the FAA addressing these concerns.

This also reminds me of conversations with my dad.  He is quick to tell me how to coach my kid's soccer team (I've played 15 years, he played 15 minutes), talk to my customers, deal with vendors, correct installation problems at work, parent my kids, play frisbee, and what the steelers did wrong when he didn't watch the game.  I love my father, I know he loves me; he just has a hard time letting go of the guidance impulse.  If I ever have an electrical problem he is my first call - I'm not sure beyond that.

Back to my work:
Our salesman has a heart of gold and wants to treat every customer with respect and solve their problems.  I like that.  He will come in with a customer stuck looking to provide a solution and wants engineers to have something to solve the problem 5 minutes ago.  It takes time to hear the problem, evaluate & determine the cause, come up with a solution and then implement it.  Somewhere in evaluating the cause Salesguy generally gets mad and walks out.  He is stuck thinking we aren't helping and we think he's a well meaning idiot.

Basically experts make things look easy.  I am not an NFL quarterback, I have yelled at the TV and thought I could tackle better.  I am not a director, but I am sure I would toss in some pointers to Spielberg out of pure ignorance and be a well meaning idiot.  I am not a writer or singer and have been far too vocal with my pride at music, books, shows, etc.  Much of this is just taste & isn't worth the electrons holding my blog.

Trouble comes with encountering idiots and not being prideful.  Forgetting that I can not walk where my salesman does and see what the needs for the whole customer plant are.  I will easily miss the sticking points that can make a project a success, or a well designed pile of parts that doesn't do what the customer needs.  That same pride of my expertise area pushes me to offer advice on things where I have no clue.  Stupid pride, shut your mouth and let everyone be excellent at the area where their gifts/talents lie.  Quit crushing dreams and seeking to feed yourself or your self image with broken pieces.

I guess all this to say:
where I am an expert - give me humility & grace in dealing with well meaning idiots.
where I am a well meaning idiot - give my a silent tongue, a patient heart and eyes to watch the experts do what they do.  Create beauty.

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