Science week

Hmmm… perhaps I should have wished for that time machine after all. I keep missing deadlines for the Science Week thing.

Today’s question is “What invention has helpd you most with your working life”

As my job centres on computing and computery things many people would expect me to say “the computer” or “d’Internet”. But Babbage’s calculating engine and its descendants are just fripperies when compared to other inventions that I might mention.

Booze is another possiblity, given its ability to unlock creative thought processes so that complex problems fall away in a “moment of clarity”. But I suspect that , overall, it may have hindered me more than helped given the fuzzy headed hangovers and general making a tit of myself at Christmas Parties when I was a younger man (ie up to last Christmas).

However, when I think about the nature of my job and my working life since mid-way through college, I realise that the majority (if not all) of my career has dealt with clearly defining and structuring problems in a way that results in clearly defined and structured solutions becoming possible. Take away my computer and I can still do that. Take away my booze and I can still do that, but I’ll have a much more muted celebration afterwards (“yippee, mine’s a tea please”). Ultimately my career has been about structure and communication.

To that end I’d like to nominate a combination invention… the dry-wipe whiteboard and the non-permanent marker. With these I can

  • do complex analysis of problems
  • define project structures
  • prioritise work plans for my team
  • diagram for my Masters students the complex set of transactions that resulted in the collapse of enron
  • Map root causes of process failures
  • Draw funny faces
  • Write project acronyms or codenames that will never see the light of day, but which everyone in the meeting finds hilarious
  • and so many more…

And then when I’m done or when I find we’ve gone down a dead end I can just wipe the whole lot off. When I have a notes worth doing something with they can then be transcribed to Word, MSProject or PowerPoint and a fully formed idea can then be communicated to others.

Also, I must not forget the smell of the markers.

A close second place would be flipcharts and post-it notes, for similar but less ecologically friendly reasons.

Yes, there are lovely technologies out there that I could nominate. However most of them simply technologise the type of creative process that can be had with a humble whiteboard and marker.

Just for the LOVE of GOD and ALL THAT IS FRICKIN’ HOLY please don’t use permanent markers on the whiteboard. People who do should be shot, treated with the best medical care until they are able to stand up again and then be shot a second time.