Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Doing things the Hard Way

I like to do things the hard way. Well, it's not so much that I like it, but after I have done something, it usually turns out to be the hard way. Part of the problem is that I have a pathological need to understand how things work. For example, in high school, I could never memorize the the rule-based procedures for solving a problem. Instead, I tried to understand the relationships at work, and then re-create the method as needed. This was cool for explaining the concept to the girls in the class, but it was murder on exam day. Eventually I realized that you just don't have time to reinvent the wheel on every problem. Still, I was never satisfied to have memorized a procedure that would produce the correct answer, without understanding all the moving parts.

A few years ago, I realized that this problem shows up in other areas of my life. I know that most men don't like to read instructions, but apparently I take this to an extreme. I didn't go to college right out of high school for a number of reasons, some good, some not so much. (As I get older, I move more of my reasons from the former category into the latter.) What I eventually realized was that deep in the dark crevasses of my subconscious, I believed that taking a class was an admission of failure. If I was really as smart as I thought I was, I should be able to figure things out for myself. You know, stuff like chemistry, and physics, and solid-state semiconductor theory. I'm not kidding. I worked on military and space-grade electronic systems for nearly 10 years with nothing but an associates degree. And not one of those trade-school degrees where they actually taught me some technical stuff - no, I studied Anthropology, Ecology, Psychology, History, and English. Sure, I took about 3 classes from the Electronics department, and a bunch of math, but half the math was to make up for what I didn't do properly in high school, and the other half was only sort-of useful.

From a fundamental perspective, Calculus was cool, but I am pretty sure that I have never had to calculate an integral outside of the classroom.

The funny thing is, most of my colleagues consider me to be a pretty hard-core engineer. Anyway, after 20 years of reasonable success in my career, I decided that maybe there was something to this whole idea of letting a teacher show me how to do something, instead of reinventing it for myself. So I found a reasonably good university that didn't laugh too hard at my previous attempt at an education, and managed to earn a BA degree. Of course, after significant work experience, a BA degree seems like pretty entry-level stuff, so my pathology of having to understand how things really work kicked in, and forced me into graduate school.

All of this is just a long-winded way of explaining how an uneducated, stubborn guy like me finds himself in top-tier MBA program. Some of the comments in this blog will come from the uneducated, stubborn guy, and some will come from a seasoned professional with a top-notch education. Which comments are which will be left a an exercise for the reader.

1 comment:

Satin said...

You write very well.