Understand the Reason
  • Knowing why it is I am doing what I am doing
  • Recognizing how the interaction of underlying factors and assumptions impacts our work
  • Asking questions to clarify “the why” beneath a request

HARRINGTON COMMENTARY

This past weekend I watched several hours of documentaries about the sinking of the Titanic. (I really hadn’t intended to do this, but it was either that or watch the Home Shopping Network. The Titanic wins every time in that match-up!) I don’t know precisely when I first learned about the Titanic, but I know it was at a young age because I can’t recall not knowing about the Titanic. These are the basic facts that have been with me most of my life: that a really big boat, full of passengers, hit an iceberg; there weren’t enough life boats; and a lot of people died.

Well, this weekend’s marathon of documentaries has expanded my knowledge and insight about the Titanic. For example, I now understand that the accident was brought about by a complex series of decisions, events, and circumstances:

  • Safety regulations and incentives in Britain when the boat was designed.
  • Business incentives for the boat’s owner.
  • The workload of the crew (including the telegraph operator).
  • Decisions by the Titanic’s captain.
  • The judgment of a captain of another boat that was just a few miles from the Titanic.
  • Decisions and actions subsequent to the iceberg hit.

Even the movement of air masses and the fluctuation of water temperatures contributed to the disaster. (According to this Smithsonian special, the atmospheric conditions were right for mirages and the presence of these optical distortions can explain both the failure to spot the huge iceberg as well the reason a nearby ship didn’t recognize the Titanic and come rescue its passengers.)

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It is important to recognize how the interaction of underlying factors and assumptions impacts our work. Rarely is life so simple as “a boat hit an iceberg”. Often times, life is more like “a complex series of decisions made years before, coupled with business pressures, a freak set of atmospheric conditions, a breakdown in communications, hubris, and a bad case of being in just the right spot at just the wrong time, all contributed to the demise of a boat and the tragic loss of 1,500 lives.”

At Funds For Learning, our job is to be experts at federal funding for schools and libraries. We are expected to know more than the basics. We are to comprehend the important factors involved in a situation, know the underlying facts about those factors, be able to put those factors into context, and recommend a proper course of action. In summary, “Understanding the reason” means knowing what it is we need to know, having the relative facts at hand that we need, putting those facts into their proper context, recognizing our assumptions, and being able to predict how changes in the situation will impact the future. When we do this well, we help our customers succeed (i.e. avoid icebergs and make it to New York on time… so to speak.)

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Key words and phrases

Comprehend the information; Insight into the circumstance; Discern the meaning; Realize the importance; Grasp the significance; Perceive the implications; Make sense of the facts; Realize the situation

Opposite terms

Ignorance; Lack of understanding; Failure to comprehend; Miss the point

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