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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Swamp of Mental Stasis

We could all look like geniuses if it were not for the swamp of mental stasis.

So much of appearing sharp has to do with the timeliness of the observation made.  For example several days ago at work we were discussing a new software update that we will be installing for our department.  Several years ago I participated in an earlier update of the same software, so it is plausible that some questions would immediately come to mind regarding changes that now might have to be made--was there anything we had to do last time that we might need to consider now?  But I didn’t ask that question; I was in the swamp of mental stasis assuming everything could go on pretty much as usual with the focus centered on the idea of software, nothing else.  Today we got the computer spec requirements to run the new update.  Sure enough, new memory requirements necessitate our adding memory to many department computers to get them up to spec.  How I wish several days ago I would have offered up this question: “I wonder if we will need to upgrade memory.”  With that question (and with today’s specs and confirmation of the question’s relevance and importance), I could have appeared prescient.  Instead, when we were discussing the installation several days ago I sat like a bump on a log in the midst of a hazy swamp.

Objects at rest tend to stay at rest—and this includes mental states.  It makes me wonder what can be done about this mental lethargy.  What could I do next time (and there will be many of them with variations) that would make me more incisive?  I think questions like: What am I focusing on—is that focus too narrow? (Take for granted that it usually is.)  What ramifications does a wider focus area bring to light?  What will be needed given this broader view?  I have hastily gone out on a job with the focus on one thing, only to find once I get there that I need this tool, switch, or cable that I’ve left behind because it was outside my narrow focus—but the need could have been easily anticipated with a broader viewpoint.  For repetitive jobs, checklists with a wide compass can be devised.  But often jobs are unique and transient enough that checklists are not created or consulted.  In these cases one should always ask before setting out, am I acting like a bump on the log or a genius at work?  A genius at work will have a wide viewpoint while appreciating the importance of detail; the bump on the log will have a narrow focus on a fixed idea, with only hazy regard for broader detail requirements.  The genius anticipates and envisions; the bump on the log rests content with a restricted view.

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