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OnQuickness

Freeman Dyson wrote a splendid essay, "Quick is Beautiful" (reprinted in his book Infinite in All Directions), in which he comments:

Judging by the experience of the last fifty years, it seems that major changes come roughly once in a decade. In this situation it makes an enormous difference whether we are able to react to change in three years or in twelve. An industry which is able to react in three years will find the game stimulating and enjoyable, and the people who do the work will experience the pleasant sensation of being able to cope. An industry which takes twelve years to react will be perpetually too late, and the people running the industry will experience sensations of paralysis and demoralization. It seems that the critical time for reaction is about five years. If you can react within five years, with a bit of luck you are in good shape. If you take longer than five years, with a bit of bad luck you are in bad trouble.

The same applies to individual lives. People who expect their jobs and their relationships to persist unchanged for a decade are likely to be disappointed. People who are flexible enough to adapt to major new challenges are likely to be happy and productive.

On the other hand, there's a difference between quickness and flightiness! At the crest of an economic boom, jumping from job to job is rewarded with big raises. Genius appears to lie in starting a new business, hemorrhaging money, and flitting on ... leaving the wreckage for others to clean up. Students change their majors to the hot field of the year, and graduate with credentials that evaporate when the trend shifts and times get tight. Long-range thinking is ridiculed; the "next big thing" is worshiped.

This won't last, of course; it never has, and it never will. Fundamentals, flexibly applied, are the foundations of success. They don't change --- learning, thinking, understanding, creating, caring, sharing --- and their results will be remembered long after the go-go trend du jour has turned to dust.

Sunday, September 12, 1999 at 14:41:32 (EDT) = Datetag19990912

TopicSociety - TopicScience - TopicLife


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