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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Time to Think

Whenever you write an angry letter it's best to leave it for awhile. Come back and read it see if it is as forceful as you thought or if it is just some angry guy blowing off steam. One of my first e-mails was to the editor of the college paper. I vented about everything I could think of. I felt pretty stupid as I read it published in the paper. I was out of control, not making any points, just bitching about things. Should have sat on it for awhile.

We need time to think. There is a scene in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" where John Candy is driving down the wrong side of the interstate. He looks across the median that separates the two roads (going in opposite directions). The people in the car parallel him yell out, "you're going the wrong way"! He hears them, thinks about it, then says, "how do they know which way we're going"?

It makes you wonder what is going on when our leaders vote on tax reform legislation that is written up in 10 thousand page documents. It makes you wonder about the decisions made in board rooms in 1 hour meetings. Is the proper way of conducting business always done in meetings? Is there enough time to properly process the information that goes into making a decision?

In science we have come up with statistical analysis. The more data you have the better off you'll be at determining what it means. For instance, if you have 20 people in a clinical trial you may come to a different conclusion than if you have 2000. This is called the N value and as it increases the more accurate your data analysis will be. As you increase the N value you may just be increasing the time needed to gather the data. You need that time.

By slowing down we give ourselves a better chance. We can't always wait but when we can we should. The Cargo Cult Scientist often times does not have the time to wait for the best data. It could be that there is another lab working on the same problem. If they publish first the competitors might lose the race. One less publication. This is just one of the problems associated with the publishing of scientific papers. They don't allow enough time due to the competition. Believe it or not, competing scientists don't call each other up with congratulations for getting to the answer first. Even if it's validation of their own work, scientists must be first. Now one would think that it would be exciting to see someone else come up with the same conclusions you did. It is validation of you thoughts and experiments. Sadly, that is not how the real world works.

The cargo cult airport is forever looking to the skies to see the airplanes. They don't arrive but there is still a sense of urgency down below. Deadlines are set for the shape of the coconuts that go over the air traffic controllers ears. Management has to get things done! That's different than really getting things done. Just like when the senators sign tax bills, there is no chance that they information is fully understood and acted upon accordingly. Things needed to get done so they were.

Make time to think. If you want a better job, take the time to figure out what you really want to do and where you can do it. If you want to divorce your spouse, take time to think about what life will be like as a divorcee. When signing that mortage make them wait while you read the whole contract. Take time to think. Complicated issues need time.

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