Why we build? The dangerous mind of an engineer in love

It is very inspiring to see that year after year we see huge improvements in durability, design, efficiency and overall quality in almost every area of our consumer lives.

Be it a building, a service or a simple tool, everything that you can buy or utilize has been improved in many ways. Interestingly enough while the main driver of the improvement seems to be the economy and what they call the ‘free markets’, when you look closely you will see that the real visionaries, the paradigm changers, the pioneers of advancement never did this for the money. They did earn a lot of it, but it was only an end result never the goal.

It all starts in how we look at things. There are people that look and remain in awe and get intimidated, there are people that look and do not get it so they stone what they see either in malice or jealousy, there are people that look and try to copy but never quite get it right and always stay behind… There are many kind of people, that look but do not see. And then there are this other people, the people who see something and they immediately try to think on how it could be done better. They see every problem as a challenge, an opportunity to evolve…

This is why, this is how we create. This is why regardless of our economy, regardless of any political regime or regulation, evolution will never stop.

Mark Zuckerberg commented on the movie “the Social Network” by saying:

“They just can’t wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.”

I do not only agree completely but think that it is more then liking, it is a crave, it is “love” to build… the same crave and love that created the Universe, after all whatever or whoever created the Universe, into the face of Darwin, was clearly an “Engineer in love”!

Sadok Kohen
“In truth, without deceit, certain and most veritable”

Managing stress under a hard deadline

Having a deadline for a project is generally taken as a rough estimation and there is some implied flexibility that everybody in the organization secretly agrees to.

Having a hard deadline is different: if you “have to” end a project by a specific date or the whole work and investment you have done will be wasted, you are dealing with a different animal…

As the final date approaches, you start to question whether everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing. The easy way out is to simply pretend that nobody is working hard enough and start yelling around. My experience tells me that is hardly the solution.

If on the other hand you already know that all the resources you have are pushing their limits to the very end, there is not much you can do, or is there ? The stress builds up as the date gets closer, little problems get bigger and bigger and what 6 months ago looked like a triviality now has the potential to kill the project…

Here are some essential tools that can save your life:

1) Spend some real quality time on planning, and then spend some more

We tend to underestimate the value of a good plan. You have to accept the fact that a plan can never be perfect, needs to have some flexibilities but not too many. If a plan becomes too flexible the project might never end, but if it is too tight, then the stress will eat you and your team up as a black hole.

A good plan also needs to have room for new information and be adjusted on the fly but that is not enough, a plan is a living organism and its only healthy if everyone involved updates its status constantly. Many people complain that they have no time to update their task statuses, I say its all BS, the value of the work done is lost if you have no chance to control the flow.

Today there are wonderful technologies that allow project planning and team collaboration to be done in an informative, useful and even entertaining way: Basecamp, Cubetree, Activecollab to say a few.

Technologies are only usefull if they are utilized in the correct manner, but once the right tools are integrated to the workflow you can’t even imagine how life saving they can be.

2) Be careful to 3rd party vendors

You can have a certain level of control over your team, how to push them, how to manage them, how to motivate them, but you often don’t have any control over 3rd parties involved. So be careful in scheduling your time with them. You’d be surprised at what 1 week of work for your team translates in an other company. I have seen a day job done in weeks… You often tend to plan according to your time expectations, don’t pretend the same performance from external sources, they might have different priorities then you.

3) Prioritize before, Prioritize during, Prioritize after…

There are things in life that cannot be planned. When they happen you might find yourself in a place where you have to chose what part of the planned features to let go. The thing is you cannot know when the unexpected will happen, so its a great practice to divide your project into the minimum acceptable, the essential extras, the cherry on the cake.

After the start, as the project starts to take shape you will have great ideas, ideas that you will want to include immediately.

Well, if they are not game changers, don’t… Wait for the project to end before improving it. It’s real hard to be disciplined enough. To tell you the truth I suck at this, as I see the project developing I immediately tend to try and perfect it, but those little additions, a little cut here, a brush stroke there, when you add it all up you notice that you are out of time struggling to finish any of it.

This is where the planning phase once again proves to be critical, if given enough time, most of the things you think of during the project might have be planned in advance.

Now lets say that you really have a breakthrough and you NEED to add something to the project during it: prioritize, reschedule, plan and update all the work flow. See how the new addition effects other things, look at it again and make the decision on weather its really worth it.

4) Reality check, Know where you are at any time

So now you have a good project plan, the time-line is set, priorities are in place, the team is collaborating and the hours are flowing like the wind.

Especially during big and long projects, when you start seeing that everyone is working and things start to get done, you get confortable too early and might lose sight of where you are. It might seem like you are in the middle of an amazon jungle with no compass and out of water with two options: hoping for the best (God, a helicopter, Jane…) or running around relentlessly with the hope that the physical effort gets you somewhere (generally this leads to getting more lost).

A routine check on the schedule, a regular face to face with key people, re-prioritization is key to prevent getting lost. This is again one of the areas where you face friction, the “no time” argument is always there. Funny thing is that you shouldn’t have any “time argument” if the planning is done right…

5) Learn to dance with the stress waves

Management does not have a one fit for all formula. You need to learn how to understand when to push, when to wait, when to intervene and when to have faith. Its a continuous dance, a tango if you will.

There will be times when only you can determine which direction needs to be taken, but somethimes you need to wait and go with the flow until its your time to make the move. If you try to control too much you will either be too stiff, too heavy or eventually break your team apart.

You also need some psychology skills, some empathy and awareness of the mood and morale of the people involved. The relationship between them, the little arguments that can grow to become catastrophic during the stretch.

If you care about what you do and so do the people around you, its very likely that there will be emotional moments, high and lows, the hardest part is to understand how to move, its a rhythm that is perfected by experience.

6) Work with the best

No matter what you do there will be always a time where things get out of hand, really dangerous moments where making it or breaking it depends on every one of the people surrounding you. You want to have the best around you under tough circumstances. You want to have people with responsibility, people that will own the project and be with you till the end no matter what. It is during this moments that you understand better the value of having chosen the right team.

You can only trust the best, but its a two way street, you need to be trusted too. Respect is something you earn in life, no money can buy it. And the real good people in life, when they trow themselves into the fire with you or better for you, they never do it for the money. They do it for a vision, for a dream, for a sense of purpose, they do it to make a difference, to grow…

Believe me i have worked many times with teams that let me down, completely alone.I learned a lot during those failing moments of my life. Its cheaper to hire them, but the cost of having them under fire is lethal.

I was also lucky enough to work with people that hold me over their shoulders. There have been times that I didn’t know how to thank, and times where I didn’t understand how they could be so faithful. I am so grateful for this, I will value this gifts all my life… I hope I will always be able to show how much I appreciate being on the same boat with them.

7 ) Love what you do

Love what you do. You can’t fake it, you can’t learn to love something you don’t. The Universe is designed in a way that everything has a certain gravity towards their perfect place, listen to your heart and you will find it.

8) Don’t give up until you do, learn, thank, and start all over again

Failures are the biggest teachers in life. If you are really willing to grow you can find a deep lesson within each one of them. All your failures are about you, even the ones where you thought you were really unlucky, were you thought the world was spinning against you. If you really grasp this, there is nothing in this world that can stop you. You are bound to grow.

Even the legend, Michael Jordan thinks its true (video):

I failed over, and over, and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed…

I have done every one of the mistakes I have described above. I have done many times exactly the opposite of what I just wrote. I cherish each one of my mistakes, they made me who I am today. So if you fail, dont be scared, don’t panic, it’s ok… Just try to understand where did it all go wrong. Think hard about that moment where you could have acted differently, what could you have done better to prevent it… If you think you did everything right, think again, if you still can’t find yourself at fault, think if this is really where you want to be in your life… As I told you, you cannot fool the universe, and if you are supposed to be someplace else, you will be pulled away… (BTW this is why you also need to work with people that are happy about what they do…)


I just met a hard deadline on a very big difficult project. Its a big bet, I have great expectations… I am lucky to work with a team of highly motivated professionals, people that really know what they are doing. I have to thank each one of them for their dedication and persistence. I couldn’t do it without their support.We will do big big things together, this is only the beginning.

I have to thank their leader separately, he kept it all together… I am very lucky to work with him, it is so hard to find the best…

Sadok Kohen
In truth, without deceit, certain, and most veritable…

Was Copernicus wrong?

Accordingly, since nothing prevents the earth from moving, I suggest that we should now consider also whether several motions suit it, so that it can be regarded as one of the planets. For, it is not the center of all the revolutions.

Copernicus words staggered the world, which was skeptical and even angry to the possibility that the God made Earth and His beloved creatures  were not at the center of the Universe.

It is a crucial point in human history and a chain of events that lead to Galileo’s “Scientific Method”. From that point onward people had to choose between faith and science as there wasn’t really middle grounds, either you were a man of science at heart or a man of faith.

Fortunately enough humankind intrinsically cannot be controlled for too long. This comes from the First Apple, the gift of Choice which is always and will be always there.

Copernicus was proclaimed genius and the Earth was removed from the center of the Universe.

Sadly enough humankind is also intrinsically stupid by having taken that bite in the first place… Very few understood what could be middle grounds:

Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind. – Einstein

Unconsciously people were relieved of a great burden, they were not at the center of the universe anymore, and what an unconscious responsibility that was…

But what did this imply ?

In our daily lives we tend to “decenter” ourselves, in other words we put our centers onto other things. The center of our love life might be our spouses or our children, the center of our financial expectations could become our job or a business deal, the center of our happiness may lay in abstract expectations as money or a future success…

So what happens if our centers get away from us, or they disappear. What happens if we continue to live our lives chasing, expecting, waiting or longing for our centers to come close?…

What we need to understand is that WE INFACT ARE THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE! Each one of us IS the center of their own universe. The Universe is our own personal Truman Show, everything in our universe is there for us and us only. What we fail to understand is that the moment we bring our center back to where it belongs, the awareness of being at the center of everything else that is happening around us will give you all the certainty, the love, the happiness and the focus that you never experienced before.

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. – Lao Tzu

Everything that happens in YOUR life happens for YOU to experience something. Acknowledge this fact, cherish it, own it…

But not only: Don’t let yourself be the center of somebody else’s universe! Those chains are as harmful to you as they are to whoever is decentered. Help them bring their center back and enjoy the radiating energy that you will be able to experience.

Try to visualize it, walk around and open up to the fact that everything around you, everything that is happening to your life exists because of you. All your feelings, all your emotions, all your worries, all your friends, all the books, the movies the people that you don’t yet know. They are all there for you to experience, by choice…

Maybe Copernicus was correct from a mathematical perspective. Mathematics by definition is a set of rules, a language to understand certain events and try to predict them. What the world failed to understand is that Life is ALIVE and cannot be bound by formulas.

So choose and choose without fear for mistakes are only there for you to grow, and all emotions happy or sad are there for you to know yourself, for there is only you and no one else…

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.  -E.E. Cummings

Sadok Kohen