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I am a computer scientist and I love designing algorithms to solve problems; a series of steps or instructions that one executes until there is a solution.  Wouldn’t it be great to write an algorithm for success — what ever success means for you?  Given a set of inputs, and a set of instructions, that if acted upon correctly and faithfully,  you achieve a successful solution to you problem(s) or in meeting your goal(s).

The above thought actually stems from my concerns and fears of taking on a Principal Investigator role to a research project — a very hard problem with no guarantee of a solution.  Pretty scary venture, right?  I want the project to be successful.  While formulating a team and a plan of attack, I began seeking models of successful project management in the literature.  I thought back on my own successful accomplishments — obtaining a job as a radio announcer, earning a computer science degree, obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout, starting a new career, accepting a job, and moving from one end of the continent to the other, … what did I do consistently that ensured success?

Upon reflection, I discovered that there are three key steps to any successful endeavor.  I could be wrong, but this is based on my own experience.  Therefore, I reserve the right to be wrong.

  1. The first step is a leap of faith.  Accomplishing my goals required some faith that I would succeed even though I could fail.  Despite any fear, I took small steps and built my confidence attempting to get from “here” to “there” — and I wasn’t guaranteed there would even be a there, there.
  2. The second step is personal doubt.  This is the phase of your journey where you feel you have hit a brick wall, you hit rock bottom, and you feel that there is no possible way to go any further.  You are frustrated.  Stymied.  Addled.  This is the point where you may start to feel like giving up — and most people do at this point.  However, I argue that this period of perplexity is a good thing.  It means you are tackling a very hard problem and hard problems yield great rewards.  This is not the time to quit but the time to begin.  You may need to begin by stepping back from the problem.  Take the weekend off.  Don’t think about it.  Do something else; go for a run, play golf, whatever you consider fun to do.  This gives your subconscious some time to work on the problem without your interference.  Ever have an idea suddenly spring out of nowhere?  It usually happens when you are in the shower, on the john, or at 3 A.M.  I believe this is the work of your subconscious; just make sure you have a notebook to write down what ever that flash of inspiration is.  After this period of incubation, you can start fresh.
  3. The third step is perseverance.  This is where you “gut it out”, keep at it to get past your time of doubt.  The key is to start somewhere.  Anywhere.  If you got a flash of inspiration during the incubation or break, start with that.  Otherwise formulate a hypothesis and try it.  Most likely it will be wrong.  But you will learn something.  Apply what you learned in a new hypothesis, try and fail again.  Like a smart missile, you constantly course-correct until you reach your target.

Well, there you have it.  A simple algorithm for success.  The algorithm may be simple; performing it will be hard but you can do it.  All you need to do is take that first step.