Life As an Active Science

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That tireless inventor Thomas Edison famously said of his various experiments, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Murphy's Law is much less sanguine about it: “If you never try anything new, you'll miss out on many of life's great disappointments.”

I have to say, though, that I like to experiment – especially with my life. I believe in self transformation and try to challenge myself regularly to adopt new attitudes and behaviors. I realize that I can be a little excessive with self change (you may know that already), but I am drawn to the exciting idea that my life is an “active science.”

I think changes in wrist watches over the past 50 years beautifully illustrate how important it is to experiment. Do you know who set the standard for fine watch-making for most of the 20th Century? If you answered, "The Swiss," you are correct. Swiss wrist watches dominated world markets for at least 60 years and Swiss companies were committed to constant refinement of their craft.

It was the Swiss who came forward with the minute hand and the second hand. They led the world in discovering better ways to manufacture gears, bearings, and main-springs of watches. They even led the way in waterproofing techniques and self-winding models. By 1968 the Swiss made 65 percent of all watches sold in the world and laid claim to as much as 90 percent of the profits.

Now...which country sold the most wrist watches in the 1980s? The answer is Japan. By 1980 Swiss companies had laid off thousands of watch-makers and controlled less than 10 percent of the world market. Between 1979 and 1981, eighty percent of Swiss watchmakers lost their jobs.

Why? One reason is the advent of Japanese digital watches. Another major reason is that the Swiss were reluctant to change the way they traditionally designed wrist watches. Like the fact that for too long they refused to utilize the less expensive and more accurate Quartz crystal. In short, they kept doing what they always did. Because they did not seriously experiment with radical new ways of designing timepieces, most Swiss watchmakers found themselves doing something else for a living.

Our lives are not so different. Of course we need to accept ourselves as we are, but we can't stop there. We also need to value ourselves enough make needed changes. It's a simple formula: If we want to live fully we have to keep growing. If we want to keep growing we have to adapt. And if we want to adapt we have to try on new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. For me it's about making my life an active science.

I appreciate Mark Twain's encouragement. "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do," he points out. "So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Sounds like fun to me.

-- Steve Goodier

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