My child asks why, Why, WHY? WHY!

By Brian Hobby

Do your offspring drive you batty with the “why?” question?

This was our approach with the boy of many, many, many, many questions……

As our boy got to the 3 to 4 year old inquisitive stage his thirst for knowledge sent him down the why,why,why,why,why path.

I think it is even worse than the “are we there yet?” question as that is confined to the car and was easily diverted with I spy at that age.

The nominal adults in the house were discussing the shift at length and my wife said “why don’t we try what my parents did to me?” I asked her to tell me more….

Well it turns out that it was no more than explaining to the lad that “why?” was not a valid question and that neither parent would be answering it from now on! If he wanted an answer then he needed to think about what it was that he “actually” wanted to know and ask exactly that. Starting with why was OK but there needed to be more words to follow it.

As with all things parenting, we both applied it consistently, when we got a why, we would go “that’s not a real question, what do you actually want to know?” In fairly short order we had interesting discussions on why the sky was blue, why there are so many different types of cars, what are clouds and where did the earth planet come from. The trick was to start with a simple explanation and see if that answered it, if not then get slightly more detailed and check again. Often once he knew the simple answer he was happy and went back to thinking up the next real question!

For us it worked a treat! Interestingly talking to his 1st year teacher at the parent teacher interview she commented that “your son asks such interesting and well thought out questions” we looked at each other, grinned, and told her why.

Payback is sweet, not long ago the lad was explaining something to us as we were traveling in the car and I asked why? He explained, I asked why again – to which he retorted, Dad “why isn’t a proper question” I think we taught him well!


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The Blank Slate, scarier than public speaking?

by Brian Hobby


The empty page, inviting the first words…….

I think I find it scarier and more difficult than public speaking.

We’ve all been there, “I’d like a report on……” that comes from your manager, in my role as an engineer “I need to design something that………” or in my spare time as a community theatre tech “We’ve found a really good play, bit technically challenging though, thought you might have some ideas……”

Where do you start?

I know where I usually go – is there some prior art I can steal shamelessly from, ah reuse appropriately with permission. Works well for reports in large companies, usually someone has done it before and it at least gives you an approach. There’s lots of report writing advice out there as well that you can benefit from. But something that no one has done before, a clean unblemished sheet of paper waiting for your thoughts and ideas to flow across it’s surface? That’s intimidating!

Engineers generally have standards to work to, but they are what I term “current best accepted practice” and they are continually updated (slowly and deliberately) as technology changes and new materials are created for us to fiddle with and understand – concrete and electricity were new fangled things once. Where do these ideas come from?

I think it is my theatre technical design that gives me the most insight into ideas and the generation of something new and unique.

For me it goes like this, I get handed a script, I read it – several times usually, with a notepad by my side to jot down what passages make me feel; if I get glimpses of what I think may work on stage, note those too. Then put it all aside, let the subconscious work on it. I’m a great believer in letting the subconscious do it’s work, it’s not for nothing that we say “let’s sleep on it”.

I then discuss with the director and creative team what they have in their head as a vision of what they would like to see on stage, and what glimpses and thoughts have fleetingly occurred to me; then I re-read the script and make copious notes about lighting and sound; all in pencil as they will change! I generally find at this point I have lots of ideas as my subconscious has been brewing on it for sometime.

The rest is as with many things the 99% perspiration that  goes into many of our endeavours, the sheer grunt work of making it happen.

I find a similar process works for me in the reports and engineering space, do the initial reading / research / background, ask your subconscious some questions and park it for a while. Sometimes that can be be over lunch while I get away from my desk (you do get away from your desk I hope?) and do something else; if time permits it may be a few days. I usually find when I come back to the blank sheet it is crying out for my thoughts and ideas.

So yes a blank sheet is a very scary proposition for me, partly because I often have no idea where to start; and partly because I have no idea what journey it may take me on…….

A Path Through Redundancy

By Brian Hobby

After many years working for the same company “my role became redundant“.

Pay attention to the exact words, they are important; as words always are. I’m a believer in the power of words to influence how we see things and in an emotionally charged environment like redundancy discussions words are particularly important.

The important distinction here is “role“; you are not redundant.

Many people I know have had at least 1, if not more, roles become redundant on them – all of them are excellent and skilled folks at the leading edge of competency in what they do.

It’s not about you, it’s very seldom if ever actually about you. My view is that if more people stepped back and realised that it would make it far more pleasant for everybody.

So what was my reaction to that? Well, I’d been partly expecting it but it still comes as a shock, even if you are prepared. I’ve done various courses thanks to work over my many varied roles so I took a deep breath and applied some of it.

One of the things I’ve learnt is that all events are just that, events. We can choose how to react to them. So after taking that deep breath I chose to see it as positive, and an opportunity.

Having been at the organisation for a while the payout was reasonable. I also had some leave plus long service owing so was in no immediate need of finding paying work. I am forever grateful to my wife who pushed me to take the leave and figure out what I really wanted to do next; the condition was the house renovations got finished. This wasn’t a bad thing as the physical work freed the mind somewhat to drift and think about what next…..

Part of the redundancy package was support from Lee Hecht Harrison whom I can thoroughly recommend. This drove me to look hard at what I really wanted to do and what roles may appeal; as well as examining how I work and what is important to me in the workplace. It also triggered much thinking about what is important to me in life.

My short list of priorities:

  • Health – without that you have nothing
  • My Son and not missing him growing up (meaning you need to YouTube don’t you know)
  • My Wife and my relationship with her
  • Community and Environment
  • Live Theatre (my Brisbane theatre home CTG and a recent review of why I do this)

Interesting to note that work doesn’t feature there at all! From my discussions with others through my life thus far I’ve had several conversations with parents of “grown up” children who have expressed regret that they “missed their kids growing up” because they were working too much. An article that crossed my various info feeds confirmed as much from the palliative care perspective.

So with much thinking and personal development under my belt many discussions were had about what would work for us as a family. My wife regularly travels in her job so I’m the primary carer of our son. Given all the other constraints the major simple gauge for if something would work for us was “did it let me extract the boy from school at 1500hrs every day”.

Over the time I was finishing the renovations several roles piqued my interest, could have had several of them, but even with most companies paying lip service to “flexible working hours” they weren’t prepared to allow me to extract the boy daily. I found that when you interview for a job if you have a set of criteria that you know you must meet for it to work for your family the decision on taking the role or not becomes much simpler. The other freeing factor was that we as a family didn’t “need” me to be bringing in extra money. We are both financially conservative and generally try to function so that only one of us needs a job.

There is nothing so empowering when you interview for a job as knowing you don’t have to take it!

My other tip is if you are looking for work don’t be afraid to let your circles know about it. You never know what will turn up in a conversation – for example it turns out my neighbour worked for a recruiting company and a fellow theatre tech remote lectured for the Engineering Institute of Technology.

So where am I now? Well keep your networks alive because as a result of conversations over coffee with a contractor who worked for me I got a phone call that went “are you bored being at home yet? I’ve got a casual role piloting what we were talking about over coffee all those months ago, are you interested?” Well the answer was yes and it lets me extract the boy at 1500hrs every day. It turns out that EIT needed some of my technical teaching skills as well so I’m a contract lecturer for them too which means some early mornings and not too late evenings which fit nicely with the family needs.

I still maintain that any decade now I’ll actually know what I really want to do!