When little things matter

Daniel Maynes, the chair of the BYU Mechanical Engineering Department, offered an engineer’s perspective on when little things matter in his address to the college in February.

Maynes grew up in Manti, Utah and is the youngest of 11 children. During the summer time when school was out, Maynes and his brothers would work for a local farmer to earn money, but he often complained about it to his dad. Maynes’ father always responded with this advice, “If you don’t like debeaking chickens then do something about it.”

This inspired him to take his academic pursuits seriously.  It was the first of many experiences that opened his eyes to the reality that a small change in action can make a big difference in results.

Throughout his stories and examples, Maynes offered four major take-aways.

  1. Persistence and hard work will make a great difference in your professional life.

“As a kid in high school I was never the best academic performer,” said Maynes. “I was just a small town kid who learned how to work and I realized that no matter where you are, you can outwork someone else and hard work will make up for a lot of other failings.”

  1. Small changes, like reducing friction or heat transfer, can radically change the outcome of physical phenomena and professional relationships.

“Learn to identify small things that alter the dynamics in your favor: observe, develop a predictive model based upon your observations and gather insights into the process.”

  1. A little knowledge can be dangerous. An in-depth understanding is required to correctly predict behavior for different situations, because what works in one situation may be the worst possible action in another. Understanding how small changes exert influence for many different situations qualifies you as an expert in a subject.

“Become an expert in a focused area of your profession and you will be indispensable to future employers because of your expertise.”

  1. Small changes in the beginning have a profound influence later on, even though the importance may not be obvious at the time.

“The habits, traits and standards you develop as a youth and young adult will exert tremendous influence on your success as a professional, parent and spouse. Dealing with problems early on is always more effective than waiting for a future time.”

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