What is Your Secret Mission?
- Steve Williamson, VP Digital Marketing and Content Creation, eRep, Inc.
- Monday, December 5, 2022
When I was in high school, my trigonometry teacher noticed something unusual. I was scoring 100% on my homework assignments but doing poorly on tests. When he asked me about it, I confessed a dark secret.
Look for that moment in your past (or even your present) when the experience felt completely natural, as if the universe whispered in your ear, "This is for you, and for you alone."
It was the '80s and I was in love. Prince and Duran Duran were dominating the air waves and my hair style (yes, I once had hair) fit the trend: short and spiked on one side, long and hanging over my face on the other with a long bleach-blonde tail dangling down the back of my neck. Despite my new wave aesthetic, I was a geek at heart and the source of my affection reflected it and returned everything I gave.
I was in love with my Commodore 64.
To this day I still consider it one of the best Christmas presents I've ever received. It certainly was the most influential, as it laid the foundation of my entire career.
I stayed up way too late every night writing software and playing games, and tied up the household phone line logging into bulletin boards and running a wardialer until the wee hours of the morning.
Writing software in the BASIC programming language became my passion. I'd look for any and every excuse I could find to write a program, even if it was meaningless.
Then one day something clicked. I noticed that my daily trigonometry homework seemed to follow a pattern. All the problems used the same method, only the numbers were different. "Ah ha!" I mentally exclaimed. A pattern is there and where there's a pattern, I can write a program that leverages that pattern, enabling the computer to do all the tedious work.
Each afternoon after returning home from school, I'd write a program that would solve the math problems I'd been assigned that day in class. The hard part was making the software customizable to handle each week's changes in the type of problems we were learning, but consistent enough to produce correct results. All I had to do once the core of the software was written was to tweak it to handle the new variations.
The first few days were a challenge because I wasn't certain what the correct answers were until I'd turned in my homework and gotten back my results the following day.
I had to learn the math well enough to write the software, but after about a week of trial and error, I finalized the core of my program to produce correct results every time.
We had a test every Friday and I started the semester with decent grades, but once I had refined my trig program, my test scores started to decline. I kept getting 100% grades on my homework, but after a few weeks my test scores were diverging and not in a good way.
My math teacher, Mr. Ford, noticed something was up and he asked to speak with me after class.
"See Me After Class"
Mr Ford motioned for me to sit at a desk near the front of the class and he sat at the desk next to it. "Steve, I've noticed you are doing very well on your homework but you're getting increasingly worse grades on your tests. Are you cheating?"
I may be prone to looking for the easy way to do things (as most programmers do), but I'm not a dishonest person. Besides, I didn't feel like I had anything to hide, so I was honest. "No, I'm not cheating per se," I said. "I'm using my computer. Is that okay?"
"Your computer?" Mr. Ford asked. "What kind of computer is it?"
"A Commodore 64. I got it last Christmas."
"I have a C-64 as well. They're fantastic," he said, smiling. "What software are you using?"
I could tell at this point he was more interested than angry. Instead of a lecture, it began to feel more like a conversation between equals, two nerds geeking out over their latest gadget.
"I'm writing the programs myself each week."
Mr. Ford's expression changed from enthusiasm to skepticism. "You're writing your own programs to solve your math homework?" he asked. I could hear the doubt in his voice.
"How long have you been doing this?" he asked.
"I wrote the initial version the first week of the semester. Since then, whenever you give us a new homework assignment I tweak it just enough to solve the new problems." At this point I began to think I really was confessing to cheating.
Mr. Ford looked at me without saying anything for a full minute, with a kind of "Hmm" expression on his face. I could feel my hands sweating, worrying that I was now properly in trouble.
"Your program is working because you're getting all the answers on your homework correct, but you're getting close to flunking your tests. Obviously you have to know the math itself well enough to write and keep improving a program to solve the problems, so why isn't that knowledge carrying over when you take the tests?"
I thought about this for a minute, genuinely wondering the same thing. Then it dawned on me what was happening. "You're right about needing to figure out the math. That was pretty hard at first and it took me a while to get it right. I'd do the homework manually and then work on my program until it came up with the same answers."
Mr. Ford nodded but said nothing, allowing me to continue.
"I think what happens is once I verify that my software works, I mentally push the problem-solving aspect of it out of my brain since I've already solved the problem. Everything I do after that is just enough to tweak and test it."
Mr. Ford stood up from the desk and said, "You obviously have the ability to do the math when you set your mind to it, but we can't have you flunking your tests. I have an idea," he said, tapping the desk with his index finger, "We can handle this two ways, and I'll let you choose. You can either promise to stop using your computer and do the homework and tests like everyone else, or keep writing programs to do your homework. Every Friday, bring in a floppy disk with the latest version of your program based on that week's homework assignments. I'll run it on my home computer over the weekend and if it works without error on five new problems based on that week's homework, I'll give you an A on that week's test. If I get any bugs or it fails to solve the problems correctly, you'll get a zero."
I was surprised at Mr. Ford's offer and respected his willingness to be flexible. I was also keenly aware that this was a privilege that I shouldn't take for granted.
At first I thought it was too tough of a challenge and the pressure nearly made me pass on the deal. Then I realized I'd already been taking the computer route all along. My software, once I tested each week's new variation, always worked.
"Can I change my mind later in the semester if the computer thing doesn't work out?" I asked.
Mr. Ford said, "Yes, but once you decide to go back to doing your homework and tests in the normal way, you can't revert to using the computer."
"Okay, I'll do it. Thanks for letting me try this," I said, genuinely grateful — and excited.
"No problem. I'm actually impressed that you're doing this, and I look forward to seeing your code," Mr. Ford said, shaking my hand. "Good luck."
Who Am I? Who Are You?
Jump ahead to 2016 when I took the Core Values Index™ psychometric assessment. It determined that my psychometric profile is 27-Innovator, 17-Banker, 15-Builder, 13-Merchant. This means I am a 'profound' Innovator (any score 25 or above is considered profound).
One of the top characteristics of someone who is an Innovator is they love to solve problems. They implicitly assume that there isn't a challenge they face that they can't overcome with enough effort.
Thinking back to that experience with Mr. Ford, and knowing what I know now about how I am hardwired, I realize that the way I went about getting through high school trigonometry was a classic "Innovator" move. I saw my homework as a repeating series of similar problems that followed a particular pattern. I analyzed that pattern and created a solution that would address the individual parts of the overall problem. I looked forward to Mondays because we would get a new type of problem to solve, giving me the opportunity to use my computer — my beloved Commodore 64 — to write new, updated software to solve those problems for me.
I was solving problems in a new and novel way, and I felt totally in my element.
They say success is when preparation meets opportunity. Think back on your own life and look for a moment when your true self met the perfect opportunity to come out and shine. Look for that moment in your past (or even your present) when the experience felt completely natural, as if the universe whispered in your ear, "This is for you, and for you alone."
Taking the CVI gave a name (and scores!) to the innate, unchanging nature of how I am hardwired. I instinctively knew that I was in my element back when I was writing BASIC programs on my Commodore 64 to solve my trig homework, but it wasn't until I took the CVI that I could validate and affirm what I intuitively knew about myself deep inside.
I am an Innovator, and solving problems is my personal mission.
What is your mission? Take the CVI to find out.
Core Values Index™ and CVI™ are trademarks of Taylor Protocols, Inc.
Go to eRep.com/core-values-index/ to learn more about the CVI or to take the Core Values Index assessment.
Innovator/Banker - VP Digital Marketing and Content Creation, eRep, Inc.
Steve has a career in project management, software development and technical team leadership spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (ruckerworks.com), and when he isn't writing, he enjoys cycling, old-school table-top role-playing games, and buzzing around the virtual skies in his home-built flight simulator.
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