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Tuesday, November 01, 2016


Steve Cole's thoughts on the philosophy of life.
Growing up, there were lessons that stuck with me from the moment I first heard them.

1. You can get more done with first-rate people and second-rate equipment than the other way around. I found this out in the military and working as an engineer.  The TV show GOLD RUSH proved both sides of this. The first few seasons the miners had no idea what they were doing and no matter what equipment they had, they failed. A few years later they had learned their trade and could do amazing things with less expensive equipment.

2. Just because something CAN be done does not mean it SHOULD be done. There often isn't time or resources to do everything you can think of. Some things that are possible will cause more trouble than benefit (or no benefit at all). Sometimes you find yourself negotiating a deal that makes no sense just because you don't want to fail to reach an agreement.

3. Most of the time, the have nots can be traced back in time to the did nots. People tend to sow the seeds of their own destruction.

4. Just because it's in a book doesn't make it true. Authors often make mistakes or have axes to grind. Sometimes authors make outrageous and even outright false claims just to get publicity or sell to a certain market segment. Sometimes an author says outrageous things just to increase book sales. Then again, sometimes a book published decades later has access to records that the earlier books didn't even know to look for. Every history of World War II written before the revelation of ULTRA and MAGIC is seriously incomplete.

5. The dynamic model is something too many people ignore and too few understand. The basic idea is that if you change one factor of an operation, other factors may change on their own in unpredictable ways (or ways the manager could predict but didn't want to admit). Say the manager of a hamburger restaurant calculates that meat costs more than lettuce and replaces half of the meat in his products with extra lettuce. Assuming he sells the same number of burgers, is profits will increase. In reality, customers will reject the lettuce burgers and the restaurant will make far less profit. This often happens with government policy. A few people have a problem so a new government program gives them money. After all, do the math, there are just a few people who have the problem so only a few dollars are needed. The problem is that lots of people will see the free money and suddenly decide to voluntarily get the problem so they get the money.

6. It's not about this time, but the next time. Why does the military conduct a major operation and get several people killed trying to rescue one man? Because you will never get anyone else to do whatever that one man did that got him in trouble. You won't convince pilots to fly over the enemy if you won't do everything you can to rescue the one who got shot down. How you treat one customer today will determine if any other customers do business with you tomorrow.

7. Sometimes hard is just as good as impossible in stopping people from doing the wrong thing. No lock is perfect but a strong lock encourages burglars to go break into somebody else's house. A 50-foot wall might encourage the sales of 50-foot ladders, but it will discourage a lot of people from climbing that high. In any case, someone carrying a 50-foot ladder is moving slow and easy to spot before he reaches the wall. Sure, cyber security just slows down hackers, but it may well convince them to go hack someone else.

8. Excellence is possible and worthwhile; perfection is impossible and pursuing it leads to frustration and failure. Said another way, a thing worth doing is worth doing well, but not worth trying to do perfectly.

9. Russian Army Proverb: Better is the enemy of good enough. Said another way, a thing worth doing it worth doing as well as the needs justify, but after that, you're just wasting resources better spent on another thing worth doing.
10. Sometime early in school the teacher was explaining the strange combination of months (28, 29, 30, or 31 days) that made up our year. One student said he had just read that "they" were talking about changing the year to 13 months of 28 days, adding the month of "Solaris" to the existing 12. I and everyone in the room assumed that "they" were some powerful committee who had control over printing calendars and that this was at least 50% likely to actually happen. I couldn't decide how I felt about it so I asked the other student to show me the source for this. I was somewhat shocked to see that "they" were just a bunch of guys who had an idea and that they had no authority to change the calendar. Further research (remember that I was very young) determined that the question of calendars was not in the hands of any given panel or governmental body, but was determined by the entire body of civilization. Since that time, every time I hear someone say "they say the government will change the tax code next year" or something similar, I know it is very unlikely that "they" have any authority to change anything, and that whatever it is, there are just too many people involved in deciding to change it for anything to actually change.