Someone told me years ago it is not important how you react to problems, issues, and challenges, but how you act. This idea is very powerful. Generally our instinct is to react quickly to problems, issues, and challenges, but this is not always the best approach. Obviously if the building is on fire you need to get out, but fortunately most things we face in life are not that urgent.
After using this idea for years, I finally did a little research and discovered it was derived from the Greek philosopher Epictetus, who lived about 1,900 years ago. Epictetus taught it is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. He promoted philosophy as a way of life and not just as a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control; we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. This can be difficult in many situations that rouse our emotions. He also believed individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. This is sound life advice, and I think it applies to engineering and automation, particularly when we run into problems. A variant on this philosophy is what my AC and DC fundamentals professor in college would instruct us when posing a problem, “where does the reasoning begin?” When a problem or challenge arises, this is another good question to consider.
Many times when faced with an automation or control problem or challenge the tendency is to react with a quick-fix solution. Assuming the problem is not threatening safety or property, there can be great value in avoiding the temptation of implementing a quick fix. Step back and think about what is happening before developing a solution. This can lead to higher quality solutions that are process improvements, eliminating future problems.
It is also valuable to ask others for their thoughts. Engineers and technicians in particular prefer to solve the puzzle themselves as a matter of pride and have difficulty asking others for opinions or help. My perspective comes from first doing engineering and later managing engineers. In many cases you end up reinventing the wheel. It is more important to get things done using all the resources available. Resources include coworkers, suppliers, and fellow ISA members. Online communities such as the ISA group on LinkedIn allow you to post questions to the over 30,000 members in the automation field.
It is not important how you react to problems, issues, and challenges, but how you positively act. Actions speak louder than words, but reasoned actions based on sound information add lasting value.
A version of this article also was published at InTech magazine.