In the 12th century, French philosopher and scholar Bernard of Charles shared a metaphor of standing on the shoulders of giants to express building on the previous discoveries of others. More historically, it referred to dwarfs standing on such shoulders, yet everyone from Issac Newton, to Stephen Hawking, to English rock bands have used the expression because it is a potent, telling, and powerfully respectful human way to express how we grow by learning important things from others.
Image: ThinkStockI first heard the phrase patiently and demonstrably delivered by Don Davis, the founder of SynAudCon electro acoustics training. He credited Richard C. Heyser who, among other important work at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, published a landmark paper in 1967 on acoustical measurements using Time Delay Spectrometry (TDS), the basis of eye-opening and mind bending TEF measurement systems. TEF allowed Don and many other audio professionals to view time and frequency domains together in ways they had never seen before and fundamentally changed our understanding of audio spectral analysis. I never learned where Heyser got the approbation, but the message has become galvanized as time has passed, hands have changed, and some of the giants whose shoulders I have stood on have retired or passed on. In my experience, most of those giants had no idea of the positive effect they were having on people at the time; they were just being their honest selves.
As our industry progresses conceptually, technologically, socially, and logistically, we have come to expect that misunderstood change is just part of a normal course of modern life and that increasingly we have to deal with some sort of incompleteness that leaves us blind and fumbling in the fog trying to understand. This has always been true; it just seems to come more often these days. The issue could be in how to deal with a tricky contract requirement or a disruptive new competitor. It could be how to manage cash or employees more effectively. Or, it could be a simple realization that old technical approaches and systems just don’t work as well anymore and that a smart person has found a better way. These challenges can lead to myriad emotional and practical limitations to achieving our goals. In this regard, almost all of us are, at some point, dwarfs looking for a giant’s shoulders.
When in doubt or confused about something we don’t fully understand, one benefits greatly in getting answers or ideas from another person who will unselfishly and without skin in our game lift us up with helpful arms to provide the vision we lack. This could be assistance in learning how new technology and measurement advances can create better loudspeakers. This also could be a trade association leader, committee member, or volunteer sharing openly about how they approach our industry problems in their daily work, all without asking for compensation or credit. It could be a creative integrator who takes on a risk, finds a better way to do a task, and then shares the idea in an interview or case study. Or, perhaps a consultant has uniquely learned what really works for a specific project application and puts it on a drawing knowing full well others might adopt the idea. A common thread in giants is they share openly, patiently, and freely; they willingly lend their shoulders to others. Yet, we usually only learn of these giants when they come forward publicly with their work, or they are sought out by curious seekers and their support structures.
Not everyone is easily recognized as one of the giants. And many of the people we have come to tout as giants are honestly shocked when they are honored as such. Giants are just giants. And they see farther because they have stood on the shoulders of giants before them. This is why we list those integrators, consultants, inventors, and thought leaders who truly shape our industry. The list really doesn’t matter other than to humbly appreciate and acknowledge what they have done for us and to throw down a challenge for someone to be the next giant. Your name may be on this list, or not, but the list of giants is never fully comprehensive or completed, and if you give something of value to others in need, something that clears the fog, solves a problem or points the way, all without asking for credit, then it can be your shoulders for others to stand upon.
There will always be new giants and eager-to-learn dwarfs (such as myself) who will climb on those shoulders to see farther. This is the heart, mind, essence, and continuum of shared human growth and change at work as exemplified by great people in our chosen industry. If performed with passion, curiosity, lack of desire for recognition and plain hard work, anyone can be a giant. Will it be you?
Steve Olszewski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president of Dimensional Communications, Inc. and Stealth Acoustics, a systems integration and speaker manufacturing firm in the Seattle area. He has over 38 years of sales and managerial experience in AV systems and global product distribution. Steve is a former educator and past director for NSCA.