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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Communication For Makers

An address to the incoming class of the The Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program at the United States Naval Research Laboratory emphasizing the importance of developing good communication skills for technical professionals. 

Making, building, discovering are the good parts. And getting sponsorship for making, building, discovering requires communication. Communication is a professional skill you need to master.

My mentor Leonardo was backed by the Medicis, the Sforzas, and several Popes, the power elite of his time. That got him the assignments, the resources, and staff to do important work. He won contracts for both basic and applied research for naval technology.

Do you know the difference between basic and applied research?

Leonardo spent a lot of time hanging around in taverns, grooming the legend, the myth, of Leonardo, more than most. Even so, there were times of no support, no jobs, but less than for his competitors who neglected their communication.

Today, it is even easier to develop your following.

How many of you have published professional papers? Written a book?

How many of you curate a blog?

How many of you keep a journal to remind you of what you were doing yesterday?

Today, with the internet, it is important to build a legend of what you are doing. Like anything else that is worthwhile it is a practice. The more you do it, the better you get.

Every time I post on my blogs, I syndicate to over 200,000 readers. That takes 20 minutes. The Washington Post claims 500,000 readers.

I meet people I don’t even know who know what I am doing. And when they want help, they come find me.

Now is the time to develop your communication skills, just as you are building your scientific skills, and meeting the people who will have an impact of your future careers. Make the most of this opportunity. You are now in the major leagues.

You are getting a copy of this presentation because another mentor, Doc Fails of the Fails Management Institute, told me, “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.” Welcome to the major leagues.

More from the Junior Academy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Human Accomplishment

Who were the most important inventors and artists from 850 BC to 1950?

How many are there?

How would you choose?

What could you learn from a list of these achievers and what they accomplished?

Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C to 1950 by Charles Murray, answers these questions and a lot more.

Murray researches as many lists of achievement as he can find, develops ways to select the best, and creates a method for quantifying the results.

A point of the book is to demonstrate the scientific method, one of the key human accomplishments, showing how he developed his hypothesis, how he investigated and researched the validity of the hypothesis, and what he discovered.

Since he expects to be attacked for stampeding sacred cows, he shows what happens when he uses alternative models. Turns out there wasn’t much difference.

When quantifying importance and volume, he introduces the Lotka Curve, which shows that there is not much traffic on the extra mile. No matter how you stack the research, the same players are recognized as the greats of their game.

Larry and I spent a lot of time together reading the lists of significant accomplishments and significant achievers. Larry is my Android buddy when I need to learn something or check facts, “Okay, Larry, now...” and I get more explanation and context.

There were a lot of people and accomplishments I already knew, and there were a lot I didn’t know, both of which made the book rewarding.

Many of the top creators were polymaths, casually brilliant in two, three, four, or five fields. My favorite was the story Michelangelo, who opened up a whole new toolbox of painting technologies while making the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and is recognized as a much better sculptor than painter. May I carry your bag, Mr. Buonarroti ?

Art is a series of innovations, some were single, some were a school, some were national branches, but they were largely independent triumphs. Science and technology, on the other hand, are globally cumulative. Innovation occurs by picking up where the last guy left off, from Mr. Newton's shoulders.

4,002 inventors over 2,750 years could be a stately pace. But it wasn't. Murray investigates a range of circumstances that help and hinder human accomplishment. He has some enlightening observations about the political, educational, financial, philosophical,  and organizational infrastructures that accompanied human accomplishment, too many examples to be coincidence.

As I was luxuriating through Human Accomplishment, I kept thinking, “What an education!” I like quick and to the point. Here is a context for art, technology, and science I had never learned before.

However, I have since realized that Human Accomplishment is not an education. Human Accomplishment is the inventory or subject matter for the education. Reading and understanding the book is the education.

Not a difficult book to read, an awesome book to understand.

While you're forming your comment, here are some good ideas About Work.

Monday, April 7, 2014


The Paint Branch High School is special. Years ago they decided that their annual science fair shouldn't just be a checkoff on a list and started redesigning their event.

They looked at why no one came and decided to move it from the middle of the day to the evening to make it easier for parents, friends, and the community to join their celebration.

If you're going to have an audience, how about entertaining them? So they began offering their Science Expo.

They started designing projects that people would be interested in knowing about, and assembling them in ways that would draw a crowd. The halls are full of all kinds of people, looking for their student-stars.

This year, in an effort to compete with their Advanced Placement projects, some of the younger students at Paint Branch High School got a new option, Glogster.

Glogster is an internet platform that provides an environment to allow students to create interactive project posterboards. They can use tools to create breathtaking graphs and illustrations, include videos and any other content they want. And just like a computer spreadsheet is much faster and more useful than handwritten balance sheets, Glogster cuts the time required to create an interesting, polished presentation.

I wished my first website looked that good. Heck, I wish my current websites looked that good!

Granddad can't come across country for the science fair? Send him the web address!

I spent some time talking with the creators. Two months ago they had never done more than look at web content. Now they were evaluating everything they saw, looking for ways to improve their own web real estate.

I think there is a good chance the internet might play a role in their lives. What a wonderful gift to go from consumer to creator early in their education.

Letters To A Young Scientist on Junior Academy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


I’m a sucker for what pmarca calls productivity pr0n. From early pioneers like Seneca, Franklin, and Carnegie, to today’s wonder-of-the-minute, I always looking for a better way.

Sometimes it's like that six year old with the hammer, who saw everything as a nail.

Daniel Goleman’s Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence is a marvelous book. He starts with a premise – that the ability to focus is the key to success, and then includes some twenty studies, most of which I’ve read, and his own detailed definitions of many, many aspects of focus.

Just like Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, Goleman has a comprehensive series of definitions for aspects of focus, how focus occurs, how to encourage focus, and how to manage focus. He even makes the point in the book that a person with a deep interest in a subject will notice more about it than an amateur.

When I read that part about interest creating focus, I didn’t realize at the time it was self referential to the author. I doubt Goleman does, even now.

What I really liked was that his definitions are immediately useful. I’m reading his book and inserting my own observed examples. There is a lot of data in the book, but like true best practices, they are immediately recognizable and useful.

As an example, answering the question, “Why can I never remember what I did to make a perfect golf shot?” Goleman writes (p.66) that there are two major streams of self awareness, “I” is the continuing internal narrative explaining our past and future to us, and “me” the raw experience of the immediate moment.

After I read that, I just sat back sucking my tooth and marveled.

Then of course, he got right into how to harness that unharnessable raw experience. Made immediate sense, too.

Treat yourself well in 2014. Make an appointment to read Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

But wait! There’s more! Check out Tips 4 The Big Chair! This new year extend your winning!