or, Eight Maxims I Learned from a Life in Geekdom
Science fiction–and by extension, comic books–really gets a bad rap. Ever since the days of Flash Gordon, where the villain had a Fu Manchu and a high collar for Pete’s sake, people have dismissed sci-fi as the province of the dork, the geek, the dweeb. But “dorks/geeks/dweebs” were just names for the people willing to look past the silly outfits, past the visible wires and the sparkler-as-rocket-flame, to see the real meanings behind the trappings. Really, you can learn a LOT of stuff from sci-fi. More than just the names of all the planets in Star Wars or the secret origin of Name-that-Mutate, I mean; useful stuff, stuff that wouldn’t be out of place on one of those black-bordered inspirational posters.
Here are eight maxims that I came up with today, for life or business or whatever:
1. “Do or do not…there is no try.” – Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas/Brackett/Kasdan)
You are measured by your success…not your efforts. You can spend days, weeks, pushing a boulder up a hill. But if you don’t get it to the top, you may as well have left it back at the bottom. Like it or not, you will be judged by the final result; there are no ‘participation medals’ in real life.
2. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
If you learn how to do something well, really well, you will seem AMAZING to those around you. This may have nothing to do with natural ability; this can be a skill learned with effort, like how to use Office software, or how to navigate a labyrinthine expense/travel request. We all know of a “that guy,” the resource to ask when you need something done…so be “that guy” at something.
3. “I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” – Ellen Ripley (Aliens, Cameron/Giler/Hill)
Anything worth doing is worth doing well…and I mean, really well, like smoking-crater-noticeable-from-space well. Give your full effort, 110%, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results. And at the reactions of others, when you’ve gone above and beyond their expectations or limitations. If the stakes are high, you must exceed the minimum required.
Of course, keep in mind the Russian adage: “Perfect is the enemy of good-enough.” You don’t have to nuke EVERYTHING.
4. “TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch)” – Miguel O’Hara (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein)
Every choice comes with a price. You must determine what that price means to you. For instance, putting in a 60-hour work week probably means you’ll get that corner office…but lose your family. Skipping work to be with your family probably means you’ll never get promoted. Which price should you pay? Only you know…but, no matter what you choose, a price will be paid.
5. “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.” – Narrator (Amazing Fantasy #15, Stan Lee)
Whatever authority you are given (and, yes, I mean “given” not “earned“), you must use it to the best of your ability, for the betterment of the entire group over which you have authority. Minor bureaucrats distinguish themselves by using the simple power to say “no” ONLY to say “no”. If you can use your power for good, not just mediocrity, you and the entire group will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.
6. “There is no spoon.” – Boy (The Matrix, Wachowski/Wachowski)
This means more than just the usual “Think outside the box.” In order to succeed, you need to understand everything about the situation…and how to overcome it. Use critical thinking to see what are the barriers inside the organization (or yourself); go back to basics, question everything, ask why things are done the way they are. In order to break out of the stove-pipe, first you have to step back and SEE the stove-pipe.
7. “Don’t Panic!” – Front Cover (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams)
When things go wrong–and they usually will, Murphy and his Law be damned–don’t freak out. Calm down and look at the situation as it is post-wrongness (not as you’d like it to be…that ship has sailed). Take a deep breath and don’t panic. There is usually a solution. It may not be the ideal solution, but there’s usually a way out. You won’t find it if you let your monkey brain take control and start running into the walls.
8. “Avengers Assemble!” – Prologue (The Avengers #1, Stan Lee)
Sometimes, a team made up of competent people, all superstars in their own right, will fail, utterly. Whether due to personality conflicts or just a failure to interact well together, it doesn’t matter…the failure is surprising to everyone on the outside. The key to good teamwork is when everyone–everyone–on the team puts the goal/mission/objective first…and their own personal accomplishment/aggrandizement second. When you can admit your own shortcomings or weak areas, you can recognize where others might have the strengths to fill that in…and vice versa. And when the team succeeds, everyone does.
No wonder dorks/geeks/dweebs rule the world…they’ve been studying up for it their whole nerdy lives!