There I was sitting across the desk from the legendary fleet commodore of my company. As a junior officer I could sense the power of the man who had led some of the most daring, and most successful sea voyages of his time. And now he was an admiral of a desk.
Yet, even the most senior sea masters and chief engineers trembled invisibly, at least once, if summoned into his office. He had a way of sizing up the people and quickly telling them exactly where they needed to focus.
As I sat across him, he asked “Lad, do you see this sign under my desk?” I glanced at the sign – neatly typewritten and carefully tucked under the glass covering his desk. I started reading it because it seemed interesting. It said:
“A captain is a man who starts knowing a little bit about a few things. As he gains experience, he learns less and less about more and more – till he comes to a point where he knows nothing about everything.
A chief engineer, on the other hand, also starts knowing a little bit about a few things. However, as he gains experience, he learns more and more about less and less – till he knows everything about nothing.”
It was an amusing sign, especially for a junior officer barely into 20s. I cracked a smile and looked at him with puzzled eyes. I was wondering why this serious man with hardly a minute to spare would show me such a frivolous thing.
In his thunderous voice, he asked me: “Which one are you, Lad?”
I answered: “It is obvious, I work on the deck side – so eventually I will become a captain.”
“So, you want to end up knowing nothing about everything?” he asked.
I replied: “Now that you put it this way – no, not really. I want to know about more and more things for sure, but I want also to make sure that I know enough about those things to be able to effectively use that knowledge.”
“Keep that answer in your mind as you gain experience – now you can go and join your ship.”
I wondered if he gave the same lesson to everyone. Then I remembered there were several other sayings taped on his desk.
In the next blog I will write about how to get everything for nothing.