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R. Buckminster Fuller, Trim Tab

The engineer Buckminster Fuller is often cited for his use of trim tabs as a metaphor for leadership and personal empowerment. In the February 1972 issue of Playboy, Fuller said:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trim Tab.

—Buckminster Fuller, via Wikipedia

The official newsletter of the Buckminster Fuller Institute is called "Trimtab" and there's a reference to the name carved in a stone at Fuller's grave.



At age 31, R. Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller found himself penniless (with a wife and small child to support) after he had lost all of his and a good deal of others' money in a failed business. Reflecting on his experiences, he discovered that he had been happy, effective and prosperous in direct relation to the number of people in whose interest he was working at any given moment.

Maximum happiness, effectiveness and prosperity, he reasoned, could only be achieved by working for ALL people, everywhere. A true scientist, he made the rest of his life an explicitly documented, public experiment designed to test this hypothesis, and seems to have done very well, indeed.

He is probably best known for his geodesic domes, but he also invented all kinds of other things that do more with less. His goal was nothing less than the total eradication of scarcity (and the conflicts created by the politics of scarcity) on this small planet, which he dubbed 'Spaceship Earth.' A true visionary, he once said, "I just invent things and then wait for humanity to discover the need for them."

The author of numerous books and articles in his lifetime, and countless patents and technical designs, he offers this in the opening of his last book, titled Critical Path. Sometimes the challenge of writing an invitation, trying to discover just what it is that we really want to happen, approaches the poet's challenge.


Critical Path

We all see things differently. Seeing is sensing. Hearing is sensing. Touching is sensing. Smelling is sensing. What each of us happens to sense is different. And our different senses are differently effective under ever-differing circumstances. Our individual brains coordinatingly integrate all the ever-different faculties. The integrated product of our multifold individual sensings produces awareness. Only through our sensings are we aware of the complementary "otherness."

Awareness of the "otherness" is information. The complex of successively experienced informations produces interweaving episodes -- and the complex of special-case-episode-interweavings produces the scenario that our brain's memory banks identify as our individual being's "life."

The way only-our-own, individual integrity of being responds spontaneously only to our own exclusive sensing of any given otherness episode is what I mean when I use the word feeling: How do I feel about life? How do I feel about it now? ...and again now? Our feelings often change. What do I feel that I need to do about what I am feeling?

One of the many wonderful human beings that I've known who has affected other human beings in a markedly inspiring degree was e.e. cummings, the poet.

He wrote a piece called "A Poet's Advice," which I feel elucidates why "little I," fifty-three years ago at age thirty-two, jettisoned all that I had ever been taught to believe and proceeded thereafter to reason and act only on the basis of direct personal experience. Cumming's poem also explains why, acting entirely on my own initiative, I sought to discover what, if anything, can be effectively accomplished by a penniless, unknown individual -- operating only on behalf of all humanity -- in attempting to produce sustainingly favorable physical and metaphysical advancement of the integrity of all human life on our planet, which omnihuman advantaging task, attemptable by the individual, is inherently impossible of accomplishment by any nation, private enterprise, religion or other multipeopled, bias-fostering combination thereof.

A POET'S ADVICE

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.
This may sound easy, but it isn't.
A lot of people think or believe or know they feel -- but that's thinking or
believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling -- not knowing or believing or
thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being
can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know,
you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make
you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight;
and never stop fighting.
As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder
than anybody who isn't a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as
easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the
time - and whenver we do it, we are not poets.
If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you
find you've written one line of one poem, you'll be very lucky indeed.
And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something
easy, like learning how to blow up the world -- unless you're not only willing, but glad,
to feel and work and fight till you die.
Does this sound dismal? It isn't.
It's the most wonderful life on earth.
Or so I feel.

-- e. e. cummings



Fuller also offers the following, as if to remind us that writer's block is no longer an excuse -- or even an option. Can you imagine getting such a letter as a ten-year-old? ...and so good that we've still got some time left to work...

Each year I receive and answer many hundreds of unsolicited letters from youth anxious to know what the little individual can do. One such letter from a young man named Michael -- who is ten years old -- asks whether I am a "doer or a thinker." Although I never "tell" anyone what to do, I feel it quite relevant at this point to quote my letter to him explaining what I have been trying to do in the years since my adoption of my 1927-inaugurated self-disciplinary resolves. The letter, dated February 16, 1970, reads:

Dear Michael,

Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning
"thinkers and doers."
The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see
need to be done, and no one else seems to see need to be done. Then
you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be
done -- that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will
bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has
acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by
others on the individual.
Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are
intensely interested in. Don't be disappointed if something doesn't
work. That is what you want to know -- the truth about everything --
and then the truth about combinations of things. Some combinations
have such logic and integrity that they can work coherently despite
non-working elements embraced by their system.
Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar,
find it in the dictionary and write a sentence which uses that new
word. Words are tools -- and once you have learned how to use a tool
you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is
not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can
comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience.
You have what is most important in life -- initiative. Because of
it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the best of my capability. You
will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.

Sincerely yours,

Buckminster Fuller

The political and economic systems and the political and economic leaders of humanity are not in final examination; it is the integrity of each individual human that is in final examination. On personal integrity hangs humanity's fate. You can deceive others, you can deceive your brain-self, but you can't deceive your mind-self -- for mind deals only in the discovery of truth and the interrelationship of all the truths. The cosmic laws with which mind deals are noncorruptible.

Cosmic evolution is omniscient God comprehensively articulate.


From Critcial Path by R. Buckminster Fuller. © 1981 by R. Buckminster Fuller. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York.



More Fuller, source unknown

If you knew what you were doing, it's going to probably open up some very great treasures, but those don't belong to you. When I find myself being introduced to many audiences, because I do really meet thousands of them, I am often, usually, being introduced in very generous ways, and being called names like genius. I am in a hurry to point out that everybody is born genius, and that if there is anything important about me at all it is that I am a demonstration of what an average healthy human being can do if he's dis-embarrassed of the nonsense that he has to earn a living and really commits himself to what the Universe is trying to do!

I am now so confident, having been going through this for almost a half century. I assure you the getting on was very difficult. It's a big slow cycle and there's no place where you can ever say, "I am being supported now for what I did there." It's completely disconnected. It's simply a matter of acting in integrity, and you find somehow or other that you get on. [...]

Therefore, at this point in my life, I don't feel I'm being precious to a young world when I say you can really forget altogether about earning a living, provided you really commit yourself to the other man. If you're doing something that's going to make you feel good, if you're playing ego.you would like to make some important.no, don't do this. You can only do this if you really commit yourself truly, syntropically, to the idea and synergetically, it has to be everybody or nobody. It's really out and out.

I've introduced to you lots of patterns tonight, and I've been trying to explore principles. I think I've had enough experience with what I'm talking about to say I can now eliminate this as being just a coincidence about this. But I'll tell you, in learning to be able to say that, I had to make many, many mistakes. Any number of times, when I did get cold feet or somebody else getting cold feet on my behalf, saying, "Come over and take this job --" things always went wrong when you went over. You had to commit absolutely to the complete deep end or it doesn't work. So you have to work with an incredible faith in the integrity of our Universe.

--R. Buckminster Fuller


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© 1998-2017 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael