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The Simultac Fonton June 15, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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Early in my career, I had the good fortune to work in a pure R&D group.  Our goal to research and develop large, scalable multiprocessors.  Some members of the group worked on more conventional shared-memory systems, and others focused on a very different kind of computer known as a dataflow machine.

One of the senior researchers had been wrestling with dataflow architecture for years.  One night, in a dream, he had a “eureka moment” in which the key to unlocking the secret of dataflow computing was revealed.  He woke up, grabbed a pad on the nightstand, and scribbled down the answer.  He then fell back asleep, presumably a very contented man.

When he arose the next morning, he reached for the pad.  On it, he had written

Simultac Fonton

and nothing else.

The frustration!  The agony!  He knew he had the answer.  He had seen it in his dream!  But what made sense in his dream made no sense the next day, and the cryptic “Simultac Fonton” was no help.

In the ensuing years, he has continued his efforts to find the elusive Simultac Fonton.  Presumably it exists, or he will create it. I’ll leave it to the more curious readers to see if such a thing has ever existed.

For those of us who were present when the Simultac Fonton was “discovered,” it represents that secret element that we all seek, the magic key to our success. In that sense, we all have a Simultac Fonton, whether we know it or not.  To be successful, we must find it.

For the majority of  people, finding the Simultac Fonton is not the problem: they don’t even know what they want to accomplish!  It is difficult to find the key to your personal when you have not even clarified your metric for success.  Do you want to be a great leader?  A great father? A successful entrepreneur? A compelling public speaker? A respected teacher?  Our goals are as unique as we each are, but we must spend some serious time understanding ourselves and defining our goals.

With a goal in mind, we can then seek the corresponding Simultac Fonton. This is even harder.  For dataflow computers, the Simultac Fonton is most likely tangible, an ingenious bit of hardware or an algorithm that solves the problem. For most of our other goals, the Simultac Fonton is intangible: a personal flaw, or a blind spot, or a missing skill that we may never know we are lacking.

You may never be a great leader because you cannot convey your vision.  You may never be a great father because you cannot let go of your own needs.  You may never be a great entrepreneur because you cannot tolerate risk. For every goal, there may be a crucial element, the Simultac Fonton, that you cannot envision. If you cannot see it, you cannot seek it.

How do we see it? I think we need to turn to others and sincerely request their unvarnished feedback.  We need to develop a small circle of truly trusted advisors that will point out those flaws and describe the Simultac Fonton for us.  In return, we need to help others understand their Simultac Fontons. Only then can we each find our Fontons and achieve our goals.

Do you have a goal? Do you understand your Simultac Fonton? Are you close to finding it?  Will you succeed?


1. Wally Bock - June 15, 2009

Nicely done, Chuck. Your post reminded me of another lesson from a similar situation.

Years ago I helped develop a course on innovation and creativity for a big oil company. In my research I discovered that one of the things that separates so-called “creative” people from the rest of the population is that the creative folks usually have a way to capture their ideas when they come flitting by.

There are lots of different methods. I use a small digital recorder and index cards. My friend Don uses little scraps of paper stuffed in different pockets. And some folks use the pad by the bed, like your friend.

I tried it. I was working on a difficult problem for another client. In my dream I found the answer. I woke just enough to write on that pad by my bed and went back to sleep knowing that the answer awaited me in the morning.

I woke up at my usual time and reached for the pad. It said, “brown cow.” Lesson: creative people are people who capture ideas. Not every capture works.

2. Chuck Musciano - June 15, 2009

Wally, it would be interesting to survey how people capture ideas, and how well it works. Personally, I use Dial2Do, a service that takes short phone messages, transcribes them, and emails them to me. Anyone else have a good way to capture ideas?

Separately, the “hit rate” on captured ideas (especially correlated to consciousness at the moment :-)) would be an interesting metric.

As always, thanks for the insight!

3. Gautam - June 15, 2009

Was this Tom?

4. Wally Bock - June 15, 2009

I actually surveyed class members on that. The most popular method, by far, was a pocket notebook. Moleskine was the favorite. Some people used recorders but that was before digital so we’re talking pocket tape recorders. Very few had cell phones. So many techniques we have available now weren’t available then.

I’m not sure what you mean by “hit rate.” But if you mean some measure of “success” or good and usable ideas, I always discourage anything like that. Creativity is a divergent process, you want to come up with lots of stuff. Later you can weed, massage, and recombine ideas in the convergent innovation process.

5. Chuck Musciano - June 15, 2009

Gautam: Do you know anyone else who dreamt of the Simultac Fonton?

Wally: I do believe in the weeding process, but I am interested in the percentage of good versus total ideas. For example, I capture many blog ideas, but only turn about a third into actual posts. This hit rate interests me as I try to figure out which ideas bloom and which wither as I think more about them.

6. Wally Bock - June 16, 2009

OK, Chuck. Here’s a question that I ask clients in various ways. If you get that answer, what will you do differently?

7. Frank - June 16, 2009

Great point – I remember reading about the scientist that created the periodic table and how he was able to predict the existence of certain undiscovered elements based on the knowledge in hand. We also have to know clearly where we are to know where we want to go!

8. Chuck Musciano - June 16, 2009

Wally: I don’t know, to be honest. But it does make me wonder why my hit rate is what it is, and could I improve it? Unfortunately, a compulsive need for data can be fatal. That’s another whole blog post…

9. notsofast - June 20, 2009

Perhaps his subconscious was expressing his frustration. Or that he was getting close to the answer. Simultac Fonton is an anagram for “almost function”. Hmmm…

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