If a question comes up that no one can answer, the present-day solution is “Google It.” Back around 600 B.C., inquiring minds turned to the Seven Sages of Greece who were widely known for their “pithy and memorable dicta.” Sample dicta from the Seven include the memorable “Nothing in excess”, “Too many workers spoil the work”, and “Look to the end of life” as well as the pithy “Call no man happy until he is dead.”
By far the most profound wisdom to come from Team Sage is attributed to Chilon of Sparta, who advised “Know thyself.” These two simple words established a fundamental principle for life, launched Western Philosophy, and spawned countless tiresome Philosophy 101 papers.
The ever practical Thales of Miletus, another of the Seven, recognized that some of these sage sayings were easier to adopt than others. He ranked “Know thyself” as by far the most difficult, while noting that the simplest was “To give advice.”
The “Know thyself” meme quickly went viral, spreading through art, culture, science and religion. Socrates raised the stakes, proclaiming that the unexamined life isn’t even worth living; the examination was to include thyself along with everything else. Long before the information fire hose of the Internet, Persian poet Jelaluddin Rumi pondered “Who am I in the midst of all this thought traffic?” Once humans had time for something other than hunting and gathering, it was quite natural to look at the reflection staring back from the pond and ask, “Who is that person, and what can they do for me?”
These days, project management classes implore us to become familiar with our available resources in order to formulate a reasonable plan. Putting the right people on the right tasks can go a long way toward getting things done correctly and on schedule. Resumes and job interviews are a poor way to know someone’s abilities, but they are often all we have. There is no excuse for not knowing the people who are already on your team, most importantly yourself.
As Thales warned, however, this is not easy. Poetess George Sand wondered “Can one know thyself?” Artists and philosophers have been tossing this around for centuries, and yet there is still no Self for Dummies. Neuroscientist David Eagleman isn’t particularly encouraging to the “Know thyself” seekers, suggesting that the brain runs mostly on autopilot.
According to Dave, the conscious you is but a small fraction of what’s going on in your brain. Those awesome original ideas you think you have are usually something you heard about previously, but don’t consciously remember. Your brain is a seething cauldron of unpredictability and wonder and it pretty much runs its own show.
So if “Know thyself” has been so essential for so long, and yet our very own brain refuses to cooperate, what are we to do?
Author Oscar Wilde (not one of the Seven) had his own pithy, memorable corollary to add to this sage advice…
Just be yourself. After all, everyone else is taken.
Prior to founding INVENtPM, Dr. Smith spent 10 years with Seagate Technology in Longmont, Colorado. At Seagate, he was primarily responsible for evaluating new data storage technologies under development throughout the company, and utilizing six-sigma processes to stage them for implementation in early engineering models. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, and currently manages the website “Technology for the Journey”.
Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.