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Monthly Aphorism: On Being Square

  • If you can’t be smart, be square

Father Vaughn spent many years in IBM’s semiconductor biz, where he realized that the proper shape for a silicon chip was not long and skinny.

His engineers would argue that they could lay out the logic much more easily on a rectangle. While that was true, he knew something they didn’t: high aspect ratio shapes snap much more easily during processing. An optimum layout doesn’t matter when you can’t build the chips.

His aphorism also applies to human behavior: you’re rarely as smart as you think you are. Being square, in the stodgy, conventional, risk-averse sense, may save your bacon.

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  1. #1 by randomdreams on 2010-06-30 - 11:33

    As regards “you’re rarely as smart as you think you are”, ever read about the Dunning-Kruger effect? Smart people doing easy things are probably smarter than they think they are, dumb people doing anything aren’t as smart as they think they are, and probably we’re *all* dumber than we think when we’re doing something really complicated.

    • #2 by Ed on 2010-06-30 - 12:40

      the Dunning-Kruger effect

      Learn something new every day …

      Being an engineer means you have an “I can fix that!” mentality (aka, The Knack), but also an appreciation of how little you know about nearly everything.

      • #3 by randomdreams on 2010-07-01 - 11:07

        >appreciation of how little you know about nearly everything.

        I think that means you’re a good engineer: I’ve known several who thought that because they could fix a computer or a car, they could fix anything, like economic crises and relationship woes — and that’s not to say they couldn’t, but they needed to do some learning about *how* to fix those sorts of things first, rather than just charging in with a screwdriver and a soldering iron. It’s easy to apply your confidence gained from fixing one class of problems to wholly different classes where that confidence might be misplaced.

        A friend of mine always says: when you graduate from high school you know everything. When you graduate from college you realise you don’t actually know everything. When you get your masters’ degree you realize you don’t actually know anything. When you get your PhD you realise nobody else does either.

        • #4 by Ed on 2010-07-01 - 16:14

          they could fix anything, like economic crises and relationship woes

          I know my limits …