Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Putting Paper in the Plotter

For those who know me, you’ll know I spend some of my time each week working for a formula one racing team.

My role is to manage all things relating to the CAD (Computer Aided Design) software that the engineers use to design and develop the racing car.

As an ex-design engineer myself, having worked on projects such as the Eurofighter wheels and brakes, or the Porsche Cayenne’s Four Wheel Drive gearbox, I have a good appreciation for what the designers do on a day to day basis, and dare I say, am quite well qualified to do their job myself.

My job role is quite varied and can range from presenting new process ideas to senior management, managing software upgrades which could potentially see the whole engineering effort grinding to a halt if done badly, down to fetching rolls of paper from the stores.

Who said Formula One was all fast cars and celebrities?

It was during one of my more menial tasks of re-loading paper into the large plotter that I stopped and had a moment of self pity.

“What on earth”, I asked myself, “has my life come to?”

A 1st class honours degree, and a fully chartered engineer, now stood forcing paper into a plotter that has decided it’s going to spit it straight back out at me with every attempt I make.
“Where did I go so wrong?”
“Is this what my life has come to?”

You know, all those massive, self pitying questions we ask ourselves when we have a moment of weakness.

I then recalled something that I heard on a talk by Nick Vujicic. This is a gentleman who was born with no arms or legs and now travels the world as a motivational speaker. Truly inspiring.
He said on one of his talks how, as a young boy growing up, he prayed and prayed for a miracle. He prayed that his miracle would be to somehow get arms and legs and if not that, then at least meet someone else who could tell him it was going to be ok. Someone who was in the same situation as him, who knew how he felt and could show him the way. This miracle never came.

Then, many years later, he met a girl with a similar condition, who had obviously made similar prayers for miracles. He realised that his purpose was to be someone-else’s miracle. He could be the person to show this girl the way.

Now, I have digressed ever-so slightly, as I often do, but my depressing task of putting paper into a plotter, thinking “is this what my life has come down to”, suddenly became more purposeful.

No, I have not lost the plot. (pardon the pun). I’m not writing this thinking I am suddenly the miracle that all of the designers have been waiting for. But what is important to remember is that, without me fulfilling this small task, the Engineer’s designs and ideas would not actually make it onto paper. The result would be that they couldn’t approve these designs and consequently, the company wouldn’t be able to purchase or manufacture the parts.
In addition, the quality departments would then have no parts to inspect and even if they did, would have no drawings to measure and check the parts against.
The result would be no racing car built this week and two empty spaces on the grid at the next race.

A little dramatic perhaps, as it doesn’t quite work as simply as this in these 3D – digital days, but you get my point.

My small job was to help serve others. This little task allowed others to continue to perform far more important tasks that ultimately had massive impact and effects on the company and team.

Sometimes we have to look a little wider than what we are doing to see how it can affect and help others. That makes the actual task at hand a little more worthwhile and gives us more purpose.

We may want to achieve great things, but we may also be able to do that by helping others to achieve great things.

This is why I teach.

Stay Safe & Have Fun

Al x

Thursday, 17 September 2009


I’m writing this article after a relaxing break with my gorgeous Lou in her favourite part of the world, Spain.The week-long break was a last minute thing that began with a conversation about us both needing some time out to recharge our batteries. The conversation including topics such as, “Can we spare the time”, “Can we afford the break”, “Shouldn’t we save our money and stay at home”, the usual stuff we all do when considering a last minute holiday.The conversation ended with “Let’s Just Do It!”So we did. To coin a phrase, we booked it, packed it and ******* off. (one for all you Peter Kay fans out there).

Once we’d made the decision to Just Do It, we were committed and there was no turning back as far as we were concerned.

Now I know, a short break to a hot climate is not exactly a challenge or a great demonstration of “Just Do It”, but it was the catalyst that inspired me to write this week’s article.
The moment you switch into the Just Do It attitude and mindset, nothing gets in your way and what’s more, the results come back to you thick and fast. Far quicker than skirting around whatever issue it is and pondering, musing on all of the what-if’s and allowing all those fears and negative stories to kick in.

There is also no substitute for Just Doing It. Whilst we may kid ourselves that doing something less scary or less difficult may help us in our overall direction towards our goals, there is no better way to get the results you are looking for than just doing that very thing you wish to excel at.
I’ve read with great interest some emails I’ve received recently from lovely people who have emailed asking to train with me. They ask what I teach and how tough the sessions are, and then usually finish with a familiar statement of “When I get myself fit I’ll come down and train”, or something to that extent.

I am as guilty as most, if not more, of being afraid of training with certain people because my levels of fitness or skill will be no match for them or their class. Offering to go away and get my fitness better before I enter their class. In reality, this is usually just another way of saying, I’m nervous and fearful so will give myself more time to pluck up the courage. After all, in my experience, the best way to get fit for something is to Just Do It.

We can use supplementary training and cross training to help with conditioning and physical preparation but if you want to be a great wrestler, you won’t get good in the weights gym, you’ll get good being on the mat – Doing It!

I’ll give you another example:

Whilst sat on the beach, looking out to the awe inspiring vastness of the beautifully calm and flat sea that stretched for as far as I could see, I turned and said to Lou,“I wonder how far we can actually see today?”
Looking out at the horizon and swearing I could see the curve of the Earth in the distance I was just curious as to how far away that horizon actually was.

Now, being an Engineer, I put my analytical mathematical brain into gear and started to work out the trigonometry of where the horizon actually was. I knew the rough diameter of the Planet Earth (I know – I’m that sad!). From that I could figure out how high off the ground we were, stretching a line out tangentially to the radius of the Earth I should be able to calculate how long that line would have to be in order to meet the tangency of the Earth off in the distance.
I explained this to Lou and whilst I’m sure her frowned stare back at me was one of total amazement at my level of mathematical genius, she then replied.
“Why don’t you just get someone to sail out and you can radio to them the moment they go out of sight. They’ll know where they are and you will know exactly how far you can see!”

In other words – Just Do It, don’t theorise and don’t bother pondering and calculating and assuming, just get out there and do it.The beauty is in the simplicity and after all, it is only three little words.

In my other life within the Formula One industry, we spend vast amounts of time and money using the absolute latest and most sophisticated virtual systems for analysing designs and testing their performance before they are even manufactured. And yet, after all that effort there is still no substitute for putting the car together, getting it on the track and actually testing the real thing.

I intend to fill my life from this point forward with a lot more, Just Do Its.
As my mentor said to me a long time ago; We sit on the driveway of life watching the world go by, afraid to pull out into the traffic. So, I say to you, it’s time to get moving, get off the driveway – and Start Doing!
As always, thank you for reading and until next timeStay Safe and Have Lots of Fun!

Al x