Updated: Mar 24, 2019
My favorite four letter word to entrepreneurs on new year eve.
I have been trying to write about the Arcturus IV case study and an 1899 letter written by Wilbur Wright to the Smithsonian Institute for a long time. There could not be a better time to write about the two than a new year eve.
The Arcturus IV case study was part of a creative engineering course at MIT in the early 50s which according to New York Times obituary of its author Professor John E. Arnold '...caused a stir among traditional educators and conservative engineering leaders'.
At the beginning of the course every student of the course received a 117 page case file. In this exercise, the students were required to act as employees of a fictitious design and manufacturing company, the Massachusetts Intergalactic Traders (MIT)which was trying to develop consumer goods for the Methanians. The Methanians were the inhabitants of a fictitious planet around the star Arcturus. You can actually find the 117 page case file by a little googling, which is far more engrossing than my humble blog. While a lot can be written about the course every class of which was widely reported in the media I would like to mention just one aspect.
Professor Arnold was not trying to teach product design to his students. That is something his students could learn at any decent design school. Instead he was trying to teach his students 'designing in the unknown context'. The ergonomics of the methanians was vastly different from humans (you can see the funny images of their skeletons in the case study) and hence his students had to start by redefining their very fundamentals before doing anything with the case study. Redefining the 'givens' of the problem that they would never have questioned. Irrespective of the final grade the students received in the course, the supreme confidence they gained in designing for the unknown was precious.
The rare 1899 letter from Wilbur Wright to the Smithsonian Institute in which he is requesting them to share certain aviation related research papers with him is also captivating. Three things struck me when I read the letter at the website of the Institute's archives. One, his keen interest in manned flight since childhood (..I have been interested in the problem of mechanical and human flight ever since as a boy I constructed a number of bats of various sizes after the style of Cayley's and Penaud's machines), his penchant for meticulous preparation (...The works on the subject to which I have ... access are Marey's and Jamieson's books published by Appleton's and various magazines and cyclopaedic articles. I am about to begin a systematic study of the subject in preparation for practical work to which I expect to devote what time I can spare from my regular business. I wish to obtain such papers as the Smithsonian Institution has published on this subject, and if possible a list of other works in print in the English language.) and his humility (...I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help on the future workers who will attain final success.).
So what is the connection among the title and the two stories mentioned ?
My favorite four letter word for every aspiring entrepreneur on this new year's eve is WORK. By work I mean real work. When Professor John Arnold was developing a case study far ahead of its time he was not trying to gain cheap popularity by gimmickry. He was laying the foundation stone for the discipline of 'Foresight Engineering'. You just have to google to see how the subject has evolved over the years at places like MIT and Stanford. When Wilbur Wright was writing to the Smithsonian Institute he was actually competing with stalwarts like Glenn Curtiss and Samuel Langley who were way ahead of him in the race to the first manned flight. But Wilbur Wright won because he was engaged in real work.
1st January 2017 should be the start of 'real work' for my entrepreneur friends.