Busyness versus Business and Chemical Engineering Action

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My first blog of 2018 talked about the “speed” of the world and recommended slowing down and reflecting. Well, here’s some free chemical engineering advice as the year draws to a close: It’s important to take the time to review facts and data, analyze decisions, gather inspiration from many sources, and finally proceed with definite actions. Still, you’ll need to be ready to change, as things will come at you at “breakneck speed.”  

In my out-of-the-box way of thinking, I’m going to relate these ideas to the World Cup — Congratulations to France! During the big tournament of the big game in summer 2018, there was a lot of discussion about penalty kicks. 

Bradley Staats discussed them in the Wall Street Journal article “Don’t Simply Dive into Action:  Think.” He looked at various research sources and concluded that “the goalie’s best strategy may be not to move at all.”  At the same time, surveyed goalies have said that they would regret allowing a goal more if they stayed in the center (rather than diving left or right).  This impulse reflects an “action bias.” The idea that doing nothing could be the best strategy for goalies or businesses is seldom discussed.  

Action Bias in Chemical Engineering

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In the world of chemical engineering, when looking at a problem, we are all taught to gather more data, do more testing, investigate more research, get more sources, etc.  And yes, sometimes this is the best strategy when coming across a problem that is new to the plant or to the specific process.  However, there are many different thoughts on this topic from Sherlock Holmes who employs occasional silence and distancing for problem solving to Thomas Watson, longtime CEO of IBM who would tell his salespeople “the trouble with everyone is that we do not think enough…knowledge is the result of thought.”

So, what is the answer?  As we sit at our computers and study the data, we all debate with ourselves whether to take a short walk or brainstorm for 5 minutes.  As the title of the blog states, busyness does not lead to business or to learning.  So, as an engineer, I suggest the brainstorm approach and thinking.  For vendors and sales people too, the tendency is for action.  But, even for sales people, thinking and slowing down to develop the correct approach is critical to success.

My chemical engineering advice is to avoid acting just to show “action.” Instead, take some time to think.  We may have to change Notre Dame Football coach Frank Leahy’s quote to read instead: “when the going gets tough, the tough get thinking.”  Let me know your ideas.

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