Posted by: Nancy | April 24, 2011

The Value of Preparation

The speaker walked on stage and almost immediately announced that he had not prepared for his presentation.

He is a Nobel prize winner, speaking to a full house at the Linda Hall Library recently. His contribution to  our world is PCR — polymerase chain reaction — a process that now is critical to genetics, cancer research and pharmaceutical development. We could not have mapped the human genome without this invention, which also spawned dozens of technology companies. It was a noble accomplishment, and I wanted to hear about it — or at least about the broad topic of scientific exploration.

It should be a good story; after all, how does it happen?

But our speaker chose not to prepare. I can only assume that he believed we would find that charming or endearing. It wasn’t.

It was an arrogant act. He basically told us he didn’t care about us and he didn’t care about his topic. He didn’t care about the Library, an archive dedicated to scientific inquiry, or his hosts, careful curators of the relics of human creativity and innovation. I could forgive an awkward presentation or an overly technical one, but not a disrespectful one.

I’m lucky enough to know some of the staff at the library. I was struck by a comparison between this greatly honored man and the gentle brilliance of the people who work there.  One of the many truisms from Benjamin Franklin came to mind:  “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”

A bit harsh, perhaps, but the value to me is a reminder.
When I launched this business, I taped this fortune (above, yes, from a cookie) into my notebook. I saw it every day for about the first year of my business. It was a reminder that I may not always succeed, but without preparation, it’s certain.


  1. […] in makeshift home labs, using a $500 PCR Xerox. (Another reason I was so disappointed in the PCR Nobel laureate’s recent talk — see my last post — but I’ll let that go.) “Biopunk,” a new […]

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