Don’t Cut Off Your Thumb

Nov. 20, 2017
Though the hard lessons might indeed be the ones you learn best, it doesn’t pay to keep learning lessons the hard way. Take the opportunity to learn from the wisdom of others rather than having to make all the mistakes yourself.

Experience is that thing you often get right after you actually needed it. Most people probably relate to that. Integrators certainly do.

As a kid, I was going to the emergency room about once a year for careless accidents. A particularly hard lesson came at the end of my seventh-grade year. I was shearing plastic engraving sheets into small motor name tags. I got under the guard when my plastic strip was getting shorter, and lost track of my thumb. I sliced down through my left thumb at the base of the nail through the bone. Here comes the emergency room again.

Fast forward to the next day. My thumb had been surgically repaired. I was sitting in the living room, looking at my thumb that I had propped up to reduce throbbing. I was still in a state of disbelief. I was confounded over how I could have been so careless.

Dad looked over and saw me staring at my thumb. Timing is everything. I was perhaps more open to instruction at that moment than any other time in my life up to that point. He came over and sat down next to me, leaned over and put his elbows on his knees. He looked at me, and I looked over attentively, seeing he was about to say something. “Son,” he said, “you don’t have enough limbs to learn everything the hard way.” That was the entirety of the lesson.

It was an epiphany for me at 12 years of age. I looked at my thumb again, then down at my arms, legs and fingers. There was no good future with this method of learning. I remember hearing various adults say that the hard lessons were the ones you learn best. Although there is certainly some truth to that, it does not mean that it’s best to learn everything the hard way.

I had more to learn than I had limbs, and I wanted to keep them. It was at this point that I figured out that the School of Hard Knocks is only beneficial if one can live through it intact, graduate and get out of there. I had to either figure out how to learn things from the wisdom of others, or go through a lot of agony for little return—assuming I would even live through it.

This personal experience mimics the growing pains of many control system integrators over the past few decades. Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth talks about entrepreneurial seizures, in which people start up a new business without planning. That describes the origins of a lot of system integrators and it is how the industry initially clawed its way into what it is today.

Start business, check. Sell and work with clients by day, check. Implement by night, check. Make mistakes, check. Some of us survived and advanced while others did not.

This brings me to the value of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). CSIA gives members the opportunity to learn from the wisdom of others by connecting a network of integrators across the globe. In addition, webinars and the annual CSIA Executive Conference focus on educating members on topics related to the industry, the mission and running our businesses. CSIA Best Practices provide guidance for all aspects of the business, helping members to improve their game and raise the standard of integration in the industry.

Obtaining CSIA Certification is a great way to challenge yourself to utilize and put into practice the knowledge and lessons learned by other members. A CSIA Certification is not a guarantee of success. However, there is value in being (and looking for) a control system integrator that has departed the integrator School of Hard Knocks—learning not only from their own mistakes, but also from the wisdom and best practices of others.

Michael Bachelor is president at Bachelor Controls Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Bachelor Controls, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.