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#66 On The Shoulders of Giants!

by Steven Cerri on July 21, 2008

Can you think your way through management?

Hello everyone!

How does science progress? On the shoulders of giants, so the saying goes.

Those of you who have taken my classes have heard me say that for the typical engineer, management is a new career. That’s my saying.

You’ve also heard that science progresses on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us. All knowledge builds on the foundations of the past. Algebra is the foundation for the calculus which is the foundation for differential equations. We must understand one level before we can understand the next. And so it goes… until things get stuck.

Yes, stuck. In fact, science doesn’t move in nice progressive steps up the ladder of knowledge. Nor does it move in chaotic fashion. Science advances in logical, incremental steps with each level using the previous level as foundation, until progress can no longer be made. And then, a completely new way of looking at the world must often emerge. If science continues to rest on the known knowledge as its foundation for the next step, it will ultimately fail to model the world.

Therefore, for progress to ultimately be made, science must embrace that which has never been seen before. It must embrace a totally new way of understanding the world and it must abandon, to varying degrees, that which came before.

This has happened and is happening with relativity, as one example. Einstein developed the general and special theories of relativity. That worked well enough until it didn’t. Then we got quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle. Those theories worked well enough until they didn’t and now we are seemingly moving toward string theory as one possible alternative.

So what does this have to do with engineering, engineers, and management. Well, it’s exactly the same process. As an engineer you think you can “think” your way through management just as you “think” your way through technical challenges. But the process of management is as different from engineering as quantum mechanics is from relativity. And whatever theories, rules, processes, and strategies you use to solve the engineering issues, I can guarantee you they will not work in the arena of management.

In fact, engineering is as certain as relativity at predicting the future. Management is as uncertain as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle at predicting the future.

The question is, which way of being in the world can you live with?

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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