Leaders Know the Value of Proven Tools

HP 41C calculator

Do you have a favorite pair of jeans? You know, the kind that fit just right, that have the right worn-in look, that always gets “the look?” Or perhaps it’s a favorite jersey that is almost worn out but brings back great memories. I’m willing to bet that if I talked with your spouse, parents, best friend, or dog (assuming they could talk), they would reveal a favorite item or two. It might be of value because someone special gave it to you. Or it might be of value because that item isn’t made anymore. Or it might have some other type of sentimental or practical value. Regardless, I’m willing to bet you have some object that is a favorite.

Me? Of course. I have many “favorite” things. Some expensive, some cheap. Some bought, some given. Some practical, some sentimental. But among my many favored possessions are two things worth a special callout. One, a stuffed bear I had as a kid. His name is “Baby Brown Bear.” Yes, that’s a physical description, but it was, as is, his name. I talked to Baby Brown Bear for hours. I cuddled with him at nights. I told him about my day, my dreams, and my crazy 5-year year thoughts about life. I still have him and though we don’t talk as regularly as we used to, he’s still a favored thing. Can I call him a person? One time my family was on a vacation and after driving down the road a couple hours, I realized Baby Brown Bear was still in my bedroom. What did we do? My dad promptly turned around to help retrieve this left-behind family member. He was THAT important to a successful trip.

The second favorite thing of mine worthy of a callout is a calculator. Truly! Baby Brown Bear is a favorite for sentimental reasons. But my HP 41C is a favorite for practical reasons. If you know what an HP 41C is good for you. If you’ve never had the privilege of using one, you know what I mean and can stop reading right now!

For those of you who don’t know, an HP 41C was special calculator manufactured by Hewlett-Packard. As incoming freshman majoring in Petroleum Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines (arguably the world’s best geologically focused engineering school), one didn’t show up without an HP 41C (or its older brother, the HP 41CV). Before smart phones, laptops, drones, Go-Pro’s, DVRs, Apple watches, tablets, the Internet, cordless phones, or even two-way pagers, the HP 41 C existed. And it was a dream. It ran circles around the closest Texas Instruments competitors. Trust me, I know. I had both.

My calculator came with hundreds of built-in functions, but I also added four removable modules or “packs.” I added a Finance module, a Statistics module, a Math module and an extra Memory module. I wrote programs hundreds of lines long for the calculator. It even had an available magnetic card reader and printer. Though I couldn’t afford either, I occasionally borrowed a friend’s card reader. Wow!

What I liked most about the HP 41C? It was robust, had tons of functions and it had RPN (reverse polish notion for any of you non-geeks). RPN (look it up) is simply an incredible approach to entering and performing formulas on a calculator. To anyone who’s ever become truly proficient at using RPN, you know what I mean!

To this day, I use my HP 41C and another cheaper HP calculator that uses RPN. And although I now have an app for my iPhone 7 that mimics an HP calculator, I still prefer running my numbers and calculations on the HP 41C. It’s a classic.

The HP 41C wasn’t cheap. My dad had to fork out over $200 in the early ‘80s so I could become an engineer. And we drove almost 2 hours each way to find a store that had one in stock because Amazon was still 15 years away!

This calculator became a favorite tool almost overnight (well, once I learned how to use RPN). Over time, it has shown itself to be a proven tool. It helped me complete two engineering degrees and an MBA. It served during my Certified Quality Engineer and Professional Engineer exams. It has calculated mortgage payments and taxes and tithes and auto leases and everything in-between. And although Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel came along, the HP 41C has stood the test of time. It’s a proven tool, a go-to. It’s no longer exotic (though it’s still expensive if you can find one in good condition), but it still gets the job done. Its functionality will never go out of style.

The same is true for certain leadership principles and practices. Great leaders understand and value proven tools. The 5 Why’s will always have their place. Making people feel special never goes out of style. Clear directions will always be in vogue. The list goes on: treating people right, listening, being empathetic, using data and emotion in decision-making, reinforcing good behavior, establish clear goals, knowing your audience, and so on and so on. Great leaders know and appreciate the value of proven tools. It’s ok to learn, test and implement new approaches, new process and new tools. In fact, it’s essential to remain competitive. But don’t overlook or throw out your old, proven tools.

Have a great week and remember to appreciate and value proven tools!

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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