Posted by bob on September 7, 2018

Before my college years, I built many small electrical projects, none of which worked very well—if they worked at all. Some of this could be attributed to my limited understanding of theory at the time, but the biggest contributor was my lack of patience to complete a reasonable assembly.

In a few cases, I can remember getting down to the last few connections and trying to pinch some wires together between several fingers; hoping to see or hear a glimmer of success. Perhaps I thought that if the circuit worked a little during that intermittent touching of conductors, I would achieve the patience to finish it up correctly. Maybe I was just stupid.

I once got a severe electrical shock when holding a solid ground connection in my right hand and touched a vacuum tube B+ voltage with my left hand. That really was stupid, and to this day, I don’t know why I survived.

In my second year of college, I found a project that changed me.

The project was an analog television “chroma-keyer.” This is a device which continuously compares the video coming out of an analog television camera, and decides if the color at any given position within the raster scan can be interpreted as being a specific color. The output signal from the chroma-keyer commands a high-speed video switch to select between a primary or secondary video source. (Today we can do this process in the digital domain, with real-time video signal processing.)

The studio backdrop was chosen to be a specific color corresponding to the setting of the chroma-keyer device. The system allows a newsreader to be superimposed over a background image or video segment, since the newsreader and their clothing should not match the specific color of the background.

The tiny TV station I worked for could not afford a commercial chroma-keyer product at the time, and none of our local competitors had one either.

For this project, I finally gave as much attention to the project construction quality as I did to the circuit design. This meant that once the device was adjusted, it continued to work reasonably well day after day for the afternoon and nightly newscasts.

Some of our newscasters had hairstyles puffed out to significant height.  Unfortunately, the backdrop color could leak through the edges of their hair. This meant that their head appeared to shrink or to grow as the chroma-key effect was turned on or off.

The next project I built worked successfully. And the next project after that worked too. I think the difference between my previous failures and newfound success was that I finally developed the patience to make sure that the construction quality was sufficient to keep the circuit working without requiring me to apply a magic touch somewhere.

I certainly made many further mistakes, and had some big failures after the chroma-keyer. Indeed, I found many new ways to make mistakes and some of them were painful lessons.  Occasionally, I let impatience spoil other aspects of projects and working relationships.

I think it is common for young people to be impatient. They want to dive headfirst into life and carve their own paths through the career jungle confronting them. But older folks can fall into the trap of impatience too. Too many managers and business leaders demand absurdly accelerated project schedules, although their experience should teach them the wisdom of listening to their own experts. Such managers certainly should know that squeezing the Time balloon will quickly expand the Money and Bad Results balloons (even if their People manage to withstand the increased pressure).

The next time you find yourself falling victim to impatience, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What am I sacrificing by not taking the time to do this task properly? How will I regret hurrying later? If I hurry to the point of project failure, will that speed have been the best choice I could make?”

Balance is never easy, but it can be achieved.