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Carving Ducks: Thinking Differently about Challenges

October 5, 2018

By: Rick Kolstad / geek & creative @ wisnet

As we grow through life, we often have mentors and teachers who have a great impact on how we approach the way we live and challenges we face. The key is taking the time to know and listen to them. Sometimes the greatest advice comes when you are not looking for it – or they are not providing it.

Thinking differently about it.

In high school, I like to think that I was a good student, just bored, frustrated at times (like many kids). I had a geometry teacher, Tom Strauss, who saw that and invited me to take one of his algebra classes at the same time I was taking geometry – now I was challenged. I enjoyed his process of thinking and solving challenges so much that I would spend my lunch hours in his classroom going through more projects, challenges, etc. He made problem-solving fun.

Tom was an exceptional artist, he loved to carve ducks out of wood. He spent many hours during lunch making some amazing creations from a plain block of wood. One day I asked him how he learned to carve ducks. He told me, “carving ducks is easy, you just cut away everything that does not look like a duck.” I can still hear him say that with his little chuckle and smile.

Tom passed away October 2017 after losing a 4-year fight with cancer. At his funeral, I was telling this story to his wife (who was also one of my favorite teachers), and it hit me that what I thought was a joke about carving ducks is really what he had been teaching all along. Don’t directly attack the challenge, define your goals, remove the clutter around that challenge, simplify as much as possible, let the challenge optimize itself, think differently! It is a great philosophy for optimizing life and creating a strong culture around you.

I realized that I have used that approach in many elements of my life – making decisions, raising a family, the way we attack website programming projects. Remove the noise, optimize, and focus on what is important. This philosophy has been a big part in the evolution of the culture here at wisnet. Thanks, Tom! You are greatly missed…

I am very grateful to have had many people like this in my life who provide little nudges & nuggets of advice (sometimes without knowing it) that have a great impact on my life.  

Who has given you little nudges & nuggets that have impacted your life?