Nothing Works

nothingIn my business … which is developing completely new ways to solve difficult problems … the problems we undertake are rarely easy.  There is no guarantee that our solution, or, in fact any solution, will work so our projects we sometimes reach a point where Nothing Works.   Worse, we don’t know why.  As this weekend rolls around we have reached that point on a project we are currently working on.  This particular project involves my business partner and I, as well as an engineer from a small company down the road.  The first phase of the project gives us not quite enough money to prove to the customer that our idea will work, which means we put in a lot more time than what we’re paid for, the incentive being a more substantial contract in Phase 2.  If there’s a Phase 2.  There’s no Phase 2 if Nothing Works. None of us will starve if the project doesn’t go to Phase 2 but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to advance.  The pressure is just self-imposed.

Aside from the technical aspects of these situations, the observer side of me finds them interesting opportunities to watch how each of us works under pressure because, although we work in the same field, we are very different.  Under pressure, I am prone to working alone and trying to solve the problem myself before calling in others.  While I am very good at working with others under normal circumstances, when Nothing Works and a deadline looms, I find myself impatient with the thought processes of others.  Much of what we do is done in MATLAB, a mathematical programing language.  I’m somewhat of a MATLAB wizard, so I’m given to making many quick and dirty changes to try things out, creating many versions of a program.  Each is a possible solution but can be confusing, even to me.  My business partner is brilliant and analytical, always trying to develop a deeper understanding of the problem and perhaps the most frustrated with those times when Nothing Works.  He likes to work together and sees MATLAB as merely a tool making him impatient with the time it takes to make changes.  Our subcontractor is both the most methodical and the most passionate, prone to modifying MATLAB with extreme caution and wearing his frustration on his sleeve.  The three of us have been through this many times before, and in the end, our differences are an advantage.  It just doesn’t always feel that way when Nothing Works.

We had a one hour conference call today to discuss what’s next.  After an hour, we decided we all needed to go away and think about it.  So, I’ll be working this weekend, even when I’m not working, if you know what I mean.  Muri will look at me staring off into space and say, You’re thinking about that project, aren’t you?  And I will be.  But it’s not just because there’s a deadline looming.  It is a very interesting problem and there’s nothing like that moment when you suddenly understand something, or at least think you do.  And you call your colleagues and if they see it your way, the sparks begin to fly. Before long, things are working again.  Or not.

Wish us luck.  And have a great weekend.

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5 Comments on “Nothing Works”

  1. cherperz Says:

    I hope you find a way to make your project work. It sounds frustrating. I am sure the frustration would be replaced with very positive emotions if the 3 of you could come up with a solution.

    What you do is a billion times more difficult than what I do but I will say after working the last couple of weeks putting a house sale together only to have the seller back out (meaning I make ZERO money) I hate when things don’t work.

    Wishing you the best of luck!!!

  2. jenihill Says:

    Closest I’ve come lately to dealing with anything somewhat (very low grade in comparison) similar is when I started knitting a cape using the pattern I’d used almost 40 years ago to make this cape for my Mom then. It had taken me a long, long time to do that cape back then because I was a new knitter and didn’t have very much free time either to work on it. Now, I’m not an accomplished expert knitter, but I am faster (usually) and have more time too (usually) to work on these things and this time, I reached a point where there was something I must have done wrong -but couldn’t find my error -and the pattern wasn’t looking the way it was supposed to be. I went to a knitter’s group website I belong to and asked for help and no one there could figure out what was causing my problem! Yes, very frustrating when things happen like that, isn’t it?

  3. Ariel Tyler Says:

    Students often launch into the middle of their current technical problem. It is at the forefront of your mind because you have been working on it. It is not necessarily at the forefront of mine: I have many projects, and my memory is flakey in my advancing old age. Please bear with me here. Start from the beginning, checking up where I am and what I remember. Present things in logical sequence, slowly.

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