As I’ve embarked on this journey of chronicling numerous aspects of my professional work, I’ve been thinking about the trajectory of the content. Where is it going? Who is reading it? Is anyone actually putting anything I’m writing about to use?
It’s kind of a strange feeling. I mean, you can have a conversation with, say, your spouse or a friend or a co-worker. A conversation requires two people to engage with each other, to read each other’s expressions, the non-verbal’s. Interacting, talking, discussing, questioning, exchanging ideas.
But with writing, you lose that sense of two-way communication. You don’t know where your words are going. They are out there for consumption, but you have no idea of how, or even if, they are being consumed.
I do recognize many of the names of the folks who have hit the SUBSCRIBE button; it makes this somewhat of a conversation for me, I guess, even though I’m doing all the talking.
It’s a weird feeling.
So, I got to wondering: If I’m putting out work-related content, the kinds of things that folks in industry can put to use, am I losing any personal or professional competitive advantage? Should I be considering my writings, or my experience, to be something that I should be hoarding instead of sharing? Like trade secrets? Or patented material? Or worse yet: Am I putting my company at a disadvantage as proposal are being submitted to clients for work?
If I give away, say, the Prime Coat Worksheet (CLICK HERE TO SEE MY PREVIOUS ARTICLE), am I taking away any competitive advantage that my knowledge might have over the next guy who hasn’t developed a means of calculating prime coat pay factors? Will someone using that information position him or herself to my detriment somewhere along the line? Is he more hire-able than I am now? Should I just keep all my tools to myself so that I’m the smartest guy in the room?
Sounds like a bout of paranoia, eh?
Believe me, I only wrote that for effect. I certainly can’t & don’t think like that. Not at all.
The more I thought about it, the more grounded I became. Why am I building this site? Why am I putting myself, my stories, my experience, my tools & my Lessons Learned out into the public domain?
It’s About Service.
When I got out of college, I spent a good amount of time reading & listening to cassette tapes on personal development. Tony Robbins. Steven Covey. Tom Peters. I listened. I read. I learned.
One of my favorite authors is Earl Nightingale (pictured in this article’s lead). He wrote a book called “Lead the Field” which for me is still, to this day, one of the most influential personal development resources I own. The audio cassette version of his book is still with me. And you can laugh: I actually keep an old Walkman in my arsenal so that that I can, now and again, listen to the tapes in the car:
OK, I admit it: I have this “geek” proclivity that turns on every once in a while. Left brain shit. The kind of shit that just has you run down a rabbit hole with no real exit in sight, but when you get to the end of the tunnel, you’ve expanded your knowledge base & grown in some way.
I wish I had the gumption, sometimes, to put the books down and watch college football like most of my friends & family do on the weekends. But I have never thought that sitting & watching was a resourceful use of my time: There are always chores to be done, errands to run, kids to coach, workouts to do, people to help, things that need my hands-on attention.
Mr. Nightingale wrote about various personal improvement principles in “Lead the Field.” The over-arching theme of the book, his writings & the company he founded, Nightingale-Conant, weren’t driven by societal success, or riches or position – He dealt with intrinsic skills that built a complete person. Morals. Values. Ethics. I really gravitated to his words & his work.
One of his guiding principles was built around the concept of Service. Serving others. Serving society. Serving our families, our co-workers, our employers, our clients, our churches, our neighborhoods & communities. One of his principles that struck a chord with me was this:
Our rewards in life are directly proportional to our Service.
It is a mantra that has stuck with me since I heard him say it on a cassette tape. I believe it. And I’ve tried to live it to the best of my abilities.
Take a step back and test it on yourself: When have you felt as if you really contributed to something or someone? What does it mean to be fulfilled? Or satisfied with your life? Are you driven by trying to amass a heap of money & success? Or are you trying to use your skills & your resources to help others advance their efforts?
Think about the times you’ve volunteered. When you decided to help at your kid’s school, or with their little league team. Or when the guy across the street needed help shoveling snow or fixing a flat tire.
Those are the moments when we have contributed. When we have Served.
Coming Full Circle
When I started writing, I started writing for myself. I enjoy the creative process. I like watching an idea hatch into an story. It’s intrinsically fulfilling.
When I decided on the theme for this site, I knew that I wanted to Serve the engineering community. In some of my early articles, you’ll read it: I wanted to share what I know with as many people in the industry as I could. I have some great ideas, some great tools, some great experiences, all of which can help the up-and-coming members of the construction & engineering industries become better versions of themselves.
I would not be Serving if I wasn’t sharing.
How many times have you heard industry people lamenting when a person retires? About how the knowledge in their heads is lost forever? And about what a shame it is when that history vanishes? About how all that experience that is no longer available?
I didn’t want to be a subject in that conversation.
If I got run over by a bus today and took all of my knowledge with me without sharing it, it would be lost. All of the subtleties of construction, engineering & management that I’d gained over the course of my career would vaporize. The investment of time and effort in developing me & my skills would only pay dividends to those who might stumble onto something I left behind in my desk drawers, a hand-written note, a marked-up spec book, or an email of mine that they might have kept.
I don’t want to see knowledge lost. Not so long as I can do something about it.
So I’ll continue writing. I’ll continue to present, what I consider to be, the nuggets of knowledge that I’ve gleaned through my own efforts as well as those that have been shared or passed down to me. Whether any of this has any impact somewhere or on someone will be left for time to tell. But in the meantime, I’ll forgo any perceived “Loss of Competitive Advantage” and continue sharing.
If one engineer can apply something I’ve done to his or her own efforts, then I will have Served the community.
I hope that Earl would be proud of his student.