[September 24, 2020] I’m of the old school that says experience is the best teacher. And, while that is debatable in some philosophical corners, it nonetheless rings true. Sadly, experience is not transferable; we all must take a given path to see what it may bring. The very best leaders have something in common and that is they seek out experience, for they know it teaches best.
During our preparation for the Iraq War in 2003, military Engineers were thrown into a frenzy to find out all we could about the geological and climate of the country. Understanding the geology meant we could determine if and where materials could be found for construction of roads, bridges, and buildings, as well as the location of water sources and drainage issues. Knowing the climate (like rainfall, temperatures, etc.) meant we could build to suit those conditions.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus, ancient Greek philosopher
We called upon the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to provide us with some basic data and advice. The school is one of the best for the study of geology. We also called upon professors at the University of California at Berkeley because of their environmental/ecology program expertise. After many weeks, we had what amounted to a mountain of information to use.
Traveling on the heels of combat units, we were immediately met with a number of unforeseen engineering problems. When the highways were strewn with hundreds of thousands of mines, we had to find a solution quickly. This had nothing to do with construction at all and our studies were not immediately useful. Once again, we had to rely upon our experiences with shifting, unexpected problems.
The countryside through us a number of curveballs, each had to be solved fast and with ingenuity. When the “rainy” season arrived in October (not April as we thought), it came with triple digit temperatures, dark skies, and the air thick with a grey mist. The average rainfall annually is about six inches. What we didn’t know was that it often arrived in one or two rain events. This caused flooding and that made our living conditions unhealthy and vehicles got stuck.
There is a lesson in all this and it’s simple. Do not wait placidly for experience to come to you, seek it out, but with careful and well-considered judgment.