Do something, even if it’s wrong

My father-in-law, Werner Sommerfeld, has been a mechanical contractor for longer than I have known him. He immigrated to Salt Lake City in the early 1950’s. He is the epitome of hard work, high expectations, and integrity. His company slogan, “Old world craftsmanship; new world zeal” demonstrates that. When I was in dental school, I worked for him during my summers off. It was hard physical work, but it provided a good break from the long grind of graduate school. I remember that he would often tell his crew to “Do something, even if it’s wrong.” To him, being busy was far better than being idle. In idleness, we miss many opportunities. Momentum plays a part in that. Many times I have been in stop-and-go traffic on the freeway. I frequently see openings for a desired lane change; but because I lack momentum, I cannot safely move into that gap. Newton’s first law of motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest and a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force. Whether in the physics lab or in our behavior, this law applies. If we are in motion, we can move into a gap more easily and take advantage of a needed course correction or a new opportunity. In the early years of the Civil War, General George McClellan had several opportunities to crush the rebellion and bring a horrific war to an early end. Because of his inaction; because he didn’t pursue the fleeing Confederate Army, they lived to fight again, and the war dragged on. Lincoln grew frustrated with McClellan’s delays and fired McClellan, and began a lengthy search for a new commander who would take decisive action. Inertia can be used to our advantage if we are in motion. We can more readily adapt to changing situations and take advantage of them when we are moving. However, a leader in motion sometimes needs to be a leader at rest. Just not for too long. Longfellow, in his Psalm of Life said: “Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.”[1] Sometimes a leader must wait, and “the waiting is the hardest part.”[2] Remember that you cannot always see what a leader sees or why he is waiting. And this should not be equated with idleness. But that is a topic for another post. Being a leader in motion will work to your benefit. It is easier to follow a leader who is moving in a definite direction. And it is usually harder to hit a moving target. Do something, even if the first try ends up being wrong! [1] Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Complete Poetical Works of Longfellow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1893. [2] Petty, Tom. The Waiting. © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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