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Are you proactive or reactive?

NEWTON'S Third Law tells us, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." The big trick is predicting what that opposite reaction might be and what can be done to prepare for it.

Each individual prepares for the future in his own way, and some of us are more proactive than others. Judging from the comments in this month's salary survey of PCB designers and design engineers, much of the design community is ready to start learning Mandarin tomorrow, just in case.

I used to laugh off such sentiments (which have appeared in our salary surveys' comments sections for years), thinking that they reflected designers' renowned black humor and healthy cynicism.

But now I'm not so sure. After all, knowing two languages will be a big plus for anyone who works with international partners.

I've met a few business owners lately--designers and fabricators--who are sending one or two employees to Chinese language classes. It's not a gut-wrenching decision, one leading to feelings of selling out Uncle Sam, Morn and apple pie. No, the companies do business in China and it just makes business sense for an employee to speak that language.

There's nothing emotional about it. For these companies, Chinese language classes are just another component of employee education and training. I have to admit that I'd probably be a bit flummoxed if I were sent to learn Mandarin. But that's my emotional reaction.

Too often, we find ourselves unable to respond to events because we've set artificial limits based on emotion instead of pragmatism. Instead of dealing with actions and reactions, cause and effect, veteran PCB professionals say, "I'll quit the business before I learn Chinese."

Remember, not even 20 years ago senior PCB designers were saying, "I'll quit the business before I learn to use a CAD tool." Their love for hand-taping boards caused them to set artificial limits on their skill sets. Eventually, the proactive designers learned CAD and the "traditionalists" retired.

Most of us could stand to be more proactive, and also to react with less emotion--tough to do when you love your profession. No one else is going to look out for your interests but you. American design bureaus and board shops have found that no one else will do their bidding.

As Peter Bigelow explains in this month's "ROI" column, fabricators like him can't expect any help from government agencies, developers or business leaders in the U.S. interestingly, Bigelow did find one city whose business and political leaders were ready to help small manufacturers like him: a city near Shanghai. It wasn't an emotional decision for the Chinese to offer help to an American businessman. They just wanted to fill an empty facility.

If you're a PCB professional, you have to be proactive to succeed. Being proactive requires looking at your business and making tough calls without being guided by emotion. This may mean laying off employees so your company can survive, investing five figures in capital equipment or CAD seats, or spending much of your "spare" time educating yourself about the latest techniques and technologies.

You can't afford to set artificial barriers, and neither can we. Here at UP Media Group, nothing is completely off the table. I'm writing this on the first day of PCB Design Conference East in New England, where we're celebrating our tenth anniversary. But in fall of 2006, we're moving PCB East to Durham, NC. We've made a lot of good friends and business associates in the metropolitan Boston area, but it's time to move on. It's been a great ride, but we can't let emotions (and the region's amazing clam chowder) guide our actions.

Still, we may bring PCB East back to New England in the future. Nothing's ever off the table.
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Title Annotation:OUR LINE
Author:Shaughnessy, Andy
Publication:Printed Circuit Design & Manufacture
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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