Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


Great and Noble Tasks... November 2001

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble."

-- Helen Keller

I too would strive to do great and noble works, but those seemingly endless details hold me back every time. And even with this quotation sitting on my desk as a constant reminder, the specifics of each situation often overwhelm me. Consider the following examples.

Each month I commence with enthusiasm and anticipation to write a great column. Of course, the first step in doing this is to bring up a blank screen on my computer. And each month, that's when reality sets in and the mismatch between hoped-for greatness and the details of how to get there suddenly become alarmingly challenging. What should I put on that blank screen first? What should be the title? What's a good opening sentence of this presumably great and insightful message? Even after I have conquered those first hurdles, the rest of the words don't always flow the way I would like. But then, after some fits and starts, perhaps involving the abandonment of entire paragraphs, there is enough of interest to inspire me to at least finish what by then no longer feels all that great, but is at least what I consider the best that I know how to do for that month. Will greatness arrive next month or will I have to wait maybe until next year?

As I thus eagerly anticipate my possible future greatness, a really fundamental question arises: Will I even be able to tell if and when I do create a really good one? Sometimes you the readers are of considerable help, and I always consider your responses as a measure of, at least, goodness. The more popular columns, in terms of reader response, have not always been the ones I would have picked. Apparently, when I think I am being wonderfully eloquent, it doesn't always move you the way I expect it will. On the other hand, those columns that resonate with your personal experiences create many enthusiastic responses.

Let's consider another example. Currently, I am well into my second year as your Society's President. Would it not be satisfying to look back a year or two from now with at least a few of you telling me that I had been a "great" SID President? But what would be the measure of that greatness? On a day-to-day basis my work consists of small detailed tasks that at any moment don't convey much sense of dramatic progress. I keep a list of my major SID objectives on my desk and I try to make each day count toward accomplishing them. I want to contribute to SID by making significant improvements in membership growth, the continued improvement of our publications, the development of a stronger conference strategy, bringing ever more content and utility to our WEB site, growing chapter activities worldwide, strengthening the functioning of our committees, and introducing a new technical education program. But the weeks and months slip by and those great and noble results are yet so elusive and yet so incomplete. Yes, there have been many small and maybe even a few medium size steps in a positive direction, but great and noble accomplishments by me as President? It doesn't feel that way yet -- and frankly never will -- for the following most fundamental of reasons.

The progress and success of any organization depends on the accomplishments of many. No one person can legitimately lay claim to sole or primary credit for such successes. Therefore, our greatest joy and satisfaction must come when the great and noble deeds are accomplished by the cooperative efforts of all. Thus, my current and relatively brief role as President can only be that of an enthusiastic supporter, promoter, and cheerleader for what we in concert decide we want to accomplish. Given this, the credit for our successes must be shared by all. Position power is as illusory as the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The rainbow is plenty beautiful by itself -- it doesn't need a pot of gold to validate its existence.

For a final example, let's take the briefest of looks at what I dream to accomplish on a professional level. My stated objective is to make some useful contributions to the development of great new displays and to bringing those new display technologies to market. Yet, when observed on a day-to-day basis, my work typically consists of reading and sending e-mails, making and receiving telephone calls, discussing the details of technical issues encountered by one or more of my clients, and perhaps making a measurement or two on a new display technology or material. The typical "noble" task for the day may demand something as mundane as machining a spacer to precisely set the distance between an electron emission surface and an extraction grid. Not one of those tasks has the mark of greatness written anywhere on it. Nevertheless, when there is an intent and a purpose, every one of these small activities creates the possibility that the totality can produce something lasting. Perhaps it is like the weaving of a grand tapestry. Up close it may be hard to see the total result and the totality will take a long time to realize. Yet with each additional thread there is more that can be appreciated and the greatness comes from the sum of those small movements.

Although our day-to-day tasks may seem mundane, it seems to me that the desire to accomplish something worthwhile, to strive toward a noble purpose, and to wish to do something that is at least in some small way splendid, is a most noble and great purpose. And perhaps if those darn details that keep us from instant gratification also keep us humble, then that is also a good and proper outcome.

Should you wish to share your thoughts of your own quest for greatness and the obstacles that you have encountered, or perhaps to volunteer to make your own modest contribution to the growth and improved functioning of SID, you may contact me by e-mail at, or, by telephone at 425-557-8850, by FAX at 425-557-8983, or by mail at 22513 SE 47th Place, Sammamish, WA 98075.