Part 8
Recommendations: Packing for Ego-Trips

Copyright ©2003 by Paul Niquette, all rights reserved.

oremost, you must make a decision about your ego.  Do you have one?  Of course you do, but do you admit that you have an ego?  While you're thinking about the answer to that question, permit me to remind you that without the sense of your own identity, either by self-perceptions or external representations, you might never enjoy the experience of what has been called an "ego-trip."  That would be sad enough.  Worse, without an ego, you might not ever do anything worthwhile.  If you can bring yourself to agree with that, then you have already accepted my first recommendation, which is to go ahead and unabashedly acknowledge to yourself that you have an ego.

Whatever your age, whatever your station in life, you have already done plenty of worthwhile things.  You have built or repaired something, you have said or taught something; likewise you have prevented or encouraged, written or drawn, you have probably invented -- something.  You have been compensated for doing things, of course, but not always.  More importantly, you have been recognized for doing things.  But not always.

"No matter," you shrug.
"Matter!" I shout.
Oh sure, you can join the ranks of those who decline Oscars and Nobel Prizes, but look again.  Are not such persons merely acting out an extreme manifestation of their own egos?  Talk about self-reference: What an ironic ego-trip it must be to spurn worldwide acclaim!

our own ego has taken a beating sometimes.  Come on, admit it.  Still, you realize that not everything you have done deserves to be recognized.  Over the years, you yourself may have thought that a particular thing you were doing deserved to be recognized -- at the time of the doing.  Egos are like that.  However, it has not always turned out that way, has it?

Just as often you have given little thought to something you once said, taught, prevented, encouraged, written, drawn, invented -- only to learn later that it did indeed turn out to be worthwhile.  At that moment, [expletive deleted] you know you deserve to be recognized for it.  I speak from experience here.

Ah, but maybe somebody else got recognized instead, even acclaimed.  That must have been hard on your ego.  Then too, sometimes nobody gets recognized.  Thus, nobody's ego gets the benefit -- at least from external sources.  The question of who deserves to be recognized often comes down to a matter of firstness.  Were you first?  Go ahead and say so, but wait.  How do you prove it?

If you have invented something, then you know the problem well.  You thought that your invention was worthwhile -- at the time you were doing the inventing.  You didn't tell anybody, though.  It was your secret.  Time goes by and -- poof! -- there it is on the market.  "Hey," you exclaim to your friends and family. "That was my invention."  Oh, right. If you say so. 
Nota bene: The best inventors must accept with equanimity that their best invention has already been invented by others -- or worse, that their best invention has been obsoleted by others.
Moreover, if you are a serious inventor, you must worry about the worst of all worlds: being forbidden to benefit commercially from your own invention.  That's what other people's patents do.  As a serious inventor, you know that a patent is a license to sue, and you sure as hell don't want to get sued for using your own invention.  Thus, you will always apply for patents to secure for yourself the benefits of each invention as well as -- hoo-hah! -- to forbid others from doing so. 
Wrong!  At least, not "always."
In the first place, not all applications result in patents.  In the second place, not all patents are enforcable.  The main reason is that during the years required for your patent application to be processed -- in secret -- other serious inventors were out there inventing away -- also in secret. 

Those other inventors may or may not be applying for patents.  Instead, they are routinely protecting themselves by doing what I most want to recommend here...

Each is keeping a contemporaneous holographic record.
That means indelibly recording their work in a bound notebook on pre-numbered pages, dating each contiguous entry and embedding periodic signatures of comprehending witnesses.  Such documents will forever establish the independence as well as the time-line of their own inventions. 

When your patent finally issues, you might go ahead and sue those other inventors, though often as not, you will not prevail.  Those others have routinely protected themselves by doing the same thing you are able to do to protect yourself -- and without the trouble and expense of patent applications.

As in nature, where there is no predictive test of fitness, the worthwhileness of anything you do cannot be determined except retrospectively.  If you want to claim credit for something worthwhile, you must plan ahead.

If you think that something you have just done will turn out to be worthwhile, then you can resort to an old-fashioned procedure -- you can write yourelf a registered letter, which you keep in a drawer unopened until some future historical moment when your effort has proven to be worthwhile and your ego will want you to stake your claim.  Enough of those envelopes and you may lose track, so you will want to keep a separate index somewhere.  But that's not solving the real problem, is it?  The real problem is that you may not think that something you have done today will ever turn out to be worthwhile.  You won't waste the postage, and that will be the end of it.

Excuse the personal references here, but since my children were old enough to write, I have repeatedly urged each one to keep a diary. That they did not accept my advice is doubtless attributable in part to my not doing so myself.
ell known to my children, however, are the stacks of engineering notebooks now buried in the archives of all my former employers, each intended to protect the respective enterprises against "interference claims" by outside patent holders.  While not exactly the same as a diary, the notebooks followed a protocol that mandates recording all events of the day (phone calls, meetings, conversations -- even dental appointments and grocery lists) as well as technical content (diagrams, ideas, analysis, observations, data, calculations).  Like all my patents, however, those notebooks are the property of my former employers -- emphasis on "former" -- and thus not conveniently accessible to me.

Augmenting those records during the years of the "paper deluge" were my chronological "day-files" -- copies of all outgoing correspondence, including personal letters.  These files over time became immense and, being in loose-leaf form, piles of pages got selectively purged on residential moving days.

One letter, I recall, went to a friend in early 1971.  It described the coining of a new word.  I had just been given overview responsibility for XEG (Xerox Education Group, which included R. R. Bowker, publisher of Books in Print, and American Education Press, publisher of My Weekly Reader).  That year, XEG funded an underwriting grant to PBS for Sesame Street.  I watched an episode and got to pondering the implications of what I saw.

The word 'edutainment' detonated inside my cranium.  Later I went around using that neologism in talks at universities and management groups extolling the power of media to teach.  Now, after more than thirty years, the term 'edutainment' has achieved currency but does not yet appear in the OED.  When it does, I would be pleased to have my name next to it; however, I cannot provide the requisite documentation, since that contemporaneous letter has long ago been discarded from my day-file.

ach day, write something in your diary.  That is my recommendation to you.  Over the years, that is what I have told anybody who will listen and others, for example students, who had no choice.  "Write each day -- not because you have something to say," I like to say, "but because it is that day."  If you cannot think if any significant events, then write that down.  Enough of those days, though, and your diary is telling you to get a life.
Internet technology has come along to offer a convenient alternative for doing your diarizing.  You can send an e-mail message each day to some number of correspondents -- a circle of archiving partners, so to say.  Subsequent retrieval of identical content from multiple computers, with consistent date-stamping, will surely authenticate your primacy against even the most suspicious challenger.
To be sure, you won't know a priori the eventual value of your daily entries, but you have laid the foundation -- you have put in place the time-line -- for authenticating your claims to anything you will ever do that subsequently reveals itself to the world as being worthwhile -- including the coining of an important word.  The payoff for that particular entry then can be immense, and your ego will be the beneficiary.  Not doing so -- not planning ahead -- can result in painful lamentations as this memoir demonstrates.

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