Who Do You Think You Are?

Well, sometimes you get stuck on a theme.  There have been several topics that have been at the forefront of my thinking over the past month, coming largely from the experience at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) Annual Meeting in San Diego.  Although there were only two current GROUPERs there, I did get to interact with a number of former students, as well as others who sought me out and seemed truly eager to interact with me during the meeting.  In that light, I thought about naming this entry, “Back from Cali”.  However, after reading the song lyrics, I decided that maybe I didn’t want to reference the song by Slash (even though Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, is originally from Lafayette, IN).  How about “Back to Cali”?  No, the LL Cool J lyrics aren’t suitable either.  Even becoming snarky didn’t help.  “Title of the Entry” reminded me immediately of the song by DaVinci’s Notebook.  So, yes, I am aware of a song reference above.  Apparently, I can’t escape it.

So, what was so important that I now have all of this music in my head?  Well, it was a great room, with a wonderful view, but it wasn’t just about the view, or even the boat.

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One thing I noticed frequently is that the capacity for positive effect that one may have on others should not be trivialized.   I’m not always aware of this, and the meeting in San Diego was a great reminder of the power of the effect.  Three former GROUPERs (and one honorary GROUPER) are now involved with the Society in positions of leadership.  Sandra Garrett is on the HFES Executive Council with me; members of the Technical Program Committee for 2013 included Michelle Rogers (Workshops) and Erik Wakefield (Product Design) as well as Ron Boring (Interactive Sessions and Posters).  Let me mention Erik for a moment.  When I first started working with him, he was working in the College of Technology, with what seemed to be a bizarre idea—let’s have sports scores and updates that can be pushed, real time, to someone’s mobile device.  Except that this was 2005-06, before iPhone and Galaxy smartphones.  He got the project done, graduated, got a job, and… developed.  First in one company, then another, and then another, with HFES as his primary professional affiliation.  He’s a senior engineer now, and working on some cool projects.  When I saw him in San Diego, I noticed the difference, and mentioned it.  And I said that I was proud of how he’d developed.  Apparently, that had an effect—he went out of his way to mention it in one of his status updates (check on October 1, 2013).  And that’s what got me thinking.  We can have an effect that we don’t recognize, until someone points it out to us.

In my previous entry, “Eaten up with Curiosity,” I mentioned how much I was affected as an adolescent by the Rudyard Kipling story about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.  Well, as it turns out, the Chuck Jones Gallery was just a few blocks away from the hotel, right in the midst of the Gaslamp District.  I passed the gallery nearly every day, and Thursday evening, decided that I simply had to stop by.  I confess that I took along a young colleague who had been expressing the desire and enjoyment of engaging in conversation and challenge; although it’s hard (and a bit arrogant) to simply wake up one morning to say, “I think I’m going to mentor that person today,” I did truly enjoy helping and encouraging them to consider their capability and career path from a variety of perspectives.  So, in any case, we stopped by the Gallery, just for me to explore what might be there.  And, behold, in one of the smaller rooms of the gallery, was a picture of Rikki.  Actually, a production cel.  A nice piece of animation history.  So, there was a bit of passion expressed, moderated by a sense that such things were still beyond me.

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Detail of Rikki cel. Copyright, Chuck Jones Entertainment

Who was Rikki?  Just a pet?  Or the hero of an epic confrontation, sung into history?  Again, this is an entry about who we think we are. Sometimes we forget, or get stuck in a past version of who we might have been at some point in the past.  I tend to call that past version “the ramen-eating guy in my head”.  As an undergrad (and somewhat as a grad student), I was always watching every penny; once, when I found a $20 bill on the street in a puddle, I rejoiced—that was food for a month!  This was someone desperate to show he could belong, that he could do something of note in the academic environment.  Thirty years later, that ramen-eating guy still shows up sometimes.  I have to remind myself that’s not where I am now.  I have students eager to work with me.  Former students greet me, and are thrilled to show me their new business cards.  Others whom I never would have guessed knew about me seem honored to meet me; they’ve heard such wonderful stories about me.  How I treat them now may not seem like much, but it can have a tremendous effect on their life and future.  Who knows which young and eager student will become the next leader of our field?

These are lessons that I am very pleased to learn, with importance for my life both now and into the future.  I thank all those who helped me with these insights and learnings.

Excuse me.  I have to open a package from San Diego.   It’s a reminder never to underestimate who we are.  Rikki has arrived.

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