3 x 5 Note Pads

When I worked for a living I had a boss who was famous for never forgetting things. Actually, he owned the company and died a billionaire. Whenever he spoke to one of his managers on the phone or in person he made a note of it on a 3 x 5 note pad that had one’s initials on it. The company phone directory used our three name initials as a form of speed communications. We all knew each other by initials, mine is JSR. The Owner was JEC. JEC kept a separate note pad for each of his engineers. If he had an idea for an invention he jotted a few words on a 3 x 5 and stacked the notepad on his desk. He would line up all the people he wanted to call and ask his secretary to begin calling to tell you to come see him. He might have a dozen people lined up on a given day. I was lucky enough to work in the same compound of buildings as he did, so I was expected to get there early. Others came from different divisions around Chicago. Some of those people had a forty-five minute drive to come.

When JSR arrived at JEC’s office he was asked to wait just outside the door until JEC became free. The man didn’t waste a minute. While he was waiting for me, he used the time to call someone else. When he spoke to you he pulled his stack of 3 x 5’s with your initials on them and began asking for progress reports. Usually, he was more interested to tell you about an new idea he had that I was to work on. Many times, by the time I got back to my office (5-10 minutes) he was calling for a progress report on the new idea. That was a signal to me that I had better get things going fast. It wasn’t just me that got this special attention, everyone he talked to can tell similar stories.

That my friends is how you become a billionaire. Write your ideas down, take a baby step to begin, and follow up with many baby steps fast until you have a product that makes money. In his case his batting average was greater than 50%. So when JEC asked me to work on an idea I knew from experience that it would be a winner.

Every once in a while JEC would ask me to conduct an experiment which I knew from my experience would fail. He made me conduct the experiment and get test results to confirm his notion. I always thought it was a giant waste of time, but eventually I determined that he needed concrete data to convince him of the failure. If he got data that conflicted, I had the joy of repeating the experiment over, and over. Many times, JEC designed the experiment himself to be sure I wasn’t putting my thumb on the scale to produce a failure. Eventually, with several failed tests he accepted defeat and went on to a new idea, or a new approach to make his idea work.

When a JEC idea for a product worked we were to immediately request a patent. Last week I found one of my files with a list of all the patents I got for design details that came from developing JEC’s ideas. I was surprised and pleased when I reviewed the list. My brain kicked in when I saw the patent drawings and my memory was nearly as sharp as it was when I did the work. I have a few patents , but JEC has thousands. He believed in using the patent system to protect his product ideas from his competitors.

It has been twenty years since I worked as an engineer, but frequently I dream about work. In the dream I am up to my neck in design problems, meetings, and personnel issues. The dreams are so real it is hard to believe so much time has transpired since I actually experienced the joy of working.