September 18, 2013

Want to be right or afraid to be wrong?

I do a fair amount of consulting and training for various companies in both data collection and data processing. It has given me a window into the policies and procedures that these companies have devised in order to attack the various challenges that we all deal with in 3D imaging industries. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this insight has been one of the most valuable learning experiences of my professional life.

Just what did I learn that I value so highly? These three things:

1. People Like To Be Right. I know, no surprise there! However, what that does to workflow development was a surprise to me. Once someone gets it right, they are simply going to repeat the process. I typically begin consulting and training sessions with a series of questions. One of these is some variant of, “How are you doing this now?” This is typically followed by, “Why?” or “How did you come to the conclusion that it was the best way?”

The answers are fairly predictable. “The manufacturer/last guy that had my job told me that was the way to do it.” I’m willing to cut them some slack. After all, there really are not any manuals on how to do this stuff and as soon as one is produced, it’s outdated. We all start with help from the manufacturer but think about it for a minute. How much time does the manufacturer or their staff have to produce methodology papers or to define best practices in every application of 3D imaging? In my estimation, just enough to sell more units and not a bit more! So, why are so many of us sticking with the first solution with which we are presented?

2. People Do Not Like To Be Wrong. Trying to figure out a new path on your own guarantees that at some point you will make a decision that turns out to be wrong. It’s simply part of the process, but this dislike of being wrong (especially while the clock is ticking on a project) keeps many of us doing what we know will work instead of looking for the best way. This is a particularly sticky issue when you are being brought in as the “Expert.”

“Fake it ‘till you make it” is not bad advice, but when you are in an industry that is in a constant state of a R&D it certainly leaves your success up to fate. I prefer to pin my hopes on working hard to find out how to work smart. That requires that I become comfortable being wrong on occasion.

3. It’s Okay To Say, “I Don’t Know.” This is another statement that clients do not want to hear from their “expert consultant.” However, I think they are paying me for my honest opinion and, honestly, if their problem was cut-and-dry then they wouldn’t have paid me to come and find a solution in the first place. I will never forget the first week I spent being trained in San Ramon, California by Leica after purchasing our first scanner. Ron Aarts was the instructor and was patiently answering a multitude of questions by the 10-15 of us that were there.

By day two I had started asking a bunch of camera-related questions and without hesitation Ron said, “I don’t know. However, I know who built that part of the firmware. Let’s go ask him during the next break.” I’ve tried to emulate that attitude in my consulting work and I can honestly say that over the years I’ve learned as much as I’ve passed on. I firmly believe it is due to my willingness to admit that there may be a better way that I have not yet found.

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