We don’t receive wisdom we must discover it for ourselves.
― Marcel Proust
Work is best when you start with a good question, analyze and learn until you discover and understand an answer to the question (questions often have many answers). Then you use this understanding to create something wonderful so that you can find a new and better question to answer. This virtuous cycle leads to be best work and provides the foundation for excellence. It is precisely the recipe for the best work experiences I’ve had, built my expertise and definitely how I’d prefer to keep doing work.
I’m on vacation this week (San Francisco is an amazing city!) and it is the perfect opportunity to think deeply about life and work. Work is an extremely important part of life, and I’ve concluded that some key things determine whether or not it is really good. The same things determine your ability to achieve excellence. What I’ve observed is a process that takes place leading up to my happiness and satisfaction. More importantly, it leads to great work, productivity and excellence. The elements of this successful recipe are founded on attacking a question that needs to be answered. This question can either come from something larger than myself, or simple innate personal curiosity. At the end of the process the question has been refined and answered yielding new understanding, knowledge, learning and tools to create something better. For me, the act of creation is the ultimate in job satisfaction for me. This is a virtuous cycle that leads to deep knowledge and the ability to recycle this process with an even better question using what has been learned and created.
Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.
― Chuck Palahniuk
The largest portion and most important part of this process is the analysis that allows us to answer the question. Often the question needs to be broken down into a series of simpler questions some of which are amenable to easier solution. This process is hierarchical and cyclical. Sometimes the process forces us to step back and requires us to ask an even better or more proper question. In sense this is the process working in full with the better and more proper question being an act of creation and understanding. The analysis requires deep work and often study, research and educating oneself. A new question will force one to take the knowledge one has and combine it with new techniques producing enhanced capabilities. This process is on the job education, and fuels personal growth and personal growth fuels excellence. When you are answering a completely new question, you are doing research and helping to push the frontiers of science forward. When you are answering an old question, you are learning and you might answer the question in a new way yielding new understanding. At worst, you are growing as a person and professional.
This is an utterly noble endeavor and embodies the best of mankind. At times you are simply pushing your self forward into areas others know very well already, but to you it is fresh and new. This is OK and even essential to get to the place where your work is unique. An under appreciated aspect of this sort of learning is the path you take is the potential to learn things in new ways. Your path is likely to be different than anyone else’s and grafts your own experience and understanding on to the topic anew. This is immensely valuable and can unveil new paths and depth to existing knowledge. Today this sort of thing is wholly unsupported and under appreciated. We need to make a new commitment to use this path to excellence.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
― Marcel Proust
Sometimes the question being answered has been well studied and one is simply discovering knowledge others have already mastered. This is important growth for a professional getting to the point where the frontier of knowledge exists. This is a necessary element in getting to research, which doesn’t happen automatically. One needs to climb up the mountain of human knowledge before getting to the apex. This is the process of education as a professional and an immensely exciting calling. The mastery of a topic requires many essential elements be mastered drawing together knowledge from diverse forces. Often the best research draws together rather pedestrian bits of knowledge from diverse fields in novel manners heretofore unseen before. When we don’t support this sort of endeavor, we smother important avenues of discovery and deny our society of the most important discoveries. Charting new paths to knowledge is either a wondrous personal journey and/or an alternative way to understand.
Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.
― Albert Szent-Györgyi
Ultimately the elements are drawn together and allow the question to be answered productively. This often produces a new kernel of understanding. This knowledge can often be harnessed to produce the wherewithal for something new. The understanding will allow a new and unique act of creation. Sometimes you are creating something that others already know about, but for you it is new. That is enough for excellence; it is the engine of personal excellence. If you complete this cycle often enough eventually the creation will be genuinely original and new. The deep and powerful educational elements of this process leads to outstanding professionals well before one gets to genuinely new and unique research. It is essential to realize that very few creations are completely original with most discoveries being the combination of elements that are well known in other applications. In many cases the analysis and study of the answer to the original question itself creates something new and wonderful of many forms.
What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
― Bertrand Russell
Once this creation is available, new questions can be posed and solved. These creations allow new questions to be asked answered. This is the way of progress where technology and knowledge builds the bridge something better. If we support excellence and a process like this, we will progress. Without support for this process, we simply stagnate and whither away. The choice is simple either embrace excellence by loosening control, or chain people to mediocrity.
Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding…
― Brian Greene