Where there's a Will, there's a way

According to his high school football coach, my son Will, a senior wide receiver, has ‘made himself into a football player.’ And that didn’t happen overnight, in a vacuum or in a random manner. Achieving hard-earned goals never do.

 Eric Schlene for the Journal & Courier

Eric Schlene for the Journal & Courier

Starting as a youth football player, Will’s commitment to the sport has been obvious, relentless, and fervent.

And during game three of his high school senior season, my son’s dogged determination to not just achieve, but surpass his training and game-day goals were realized.

Will threw for a 41-yard touchdown pass, rare for a wide receiver, and then a few plays later scored on a 61-yard touchdown run contributing to his team’s 45-21 victory. The stadium announcer said, “What’s he going to do next, kick a field goal?”

Conditioning, training, off-season workouts and just plain hard work, both individually and with the team, were his not-so-secret ingredients to transforming himself into a seemingly overnight senior offensive sensation.

When you believe in yourself, anything is possible.

In sport as it is in life, consistent and persistent effort toward the goal of making yourself the best you can be equals success. For anything worth doing, there is no substitute for hard work, practice, and preparation.

Your toughest competitor is almost always going to be you. In your singular quest to achieve your highest potential, believing you can is half the battle.

A time when Will Power had no willpower

 Photo by USA Today

Photo by USA Today

When IndyCar driver Will Power became a first-time Indy 500 Race winner on Sunday, he reacted in a most non ‘Will-like’ manner. The Australian, known for being calm as a kangaroo while amassing his double-digit IndyCar career wins for Team Penske, instantly knew this win was different. This was the race that to date, had eluded him. This was THE Indy 500 that Power had just won, and boy did his joy pour out.

He screamed with excitement over and over. Even though he is lactose intolerant, he gladly drank milk from the winner’s bottle – an Indy 500 tradition – then sprayed it everywhere dousing himself and the 500 Festival queen standing nearby. No apologies needed. Unbridled excitement ruled the moment.  

Power was overcome with emotion in Victory Lane and in doing so, it illustrated just how hard he had worked for that moment. His exuberant reaction showed everyone how important that achievement was to him.  

Sometimes when events go really well and a hard-fought goal is met, some people are caught off-guard and react in unexpected ways.

Have you ever felt that giddy child-like euphoric feeling that comes from accomplishing something great – maybe surprisingly so? What was it like? How did it make you feel? Hopefully, that has happened at least a few times in your life.

For me, I got that feeling every time one of my gearbox designs was assembled in the plant and then installed in a customer’s machine. Knowing the customer was satisfied with my design always got me charged up.  And when the US Patent Office notified me not once, but three times that each of my patents was approved and issued, I was animated. For a gearhead like me, that’s saying a lot.

We all can’t win the Indy500, or a gold medal at the Olympics, but we all can achieve an important and valued goal and capture some of that feeling.

Education: The gift that keeps on giving

As my alma mater’s basketball team, the Purdue Boilermakers, prepares itself for what I hope will be a deep run in the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, I’m reminded of how my Purdue mechanical engineering education set in motion my profound thirst for knowledge.

Throughout my engineering career, I’ve never stopped learning. Whether it be a technical conference or webinar, researching and authoring a technical paper or taking a deep dive into a colleague’s publication, I am intentional in seeking out knowledge to better me personally and professionally. And you should too.

Purdue University president Mitch Daniels said, “Every successful enterprise has a very clear strategic purpose.” My personal strategy, one that has served me and my consulting business well, is to be curious and to never stop learning. 

Celebrating National Engineers Week

It’s National Engineers Week (Feb. 18-24) which gives me the chance to reflect on the opportunity I’m afforded to work with so many talented fellow engineers.

 Photo by Gazette Review 2018

Photo by Gazette Review 2018

As vice chairman of AGMA’s vehicle gearing committee, it’s cool when great minds come together to talk shop while crafting industry standards.  And in my daily consulting work, I get to help my clients, leading-edge manufacturers in the United States and around the world, with gear and gearbox design and analysis. Finding innovative solutions for my clients never gets old. 

So, this week, and as I did last year, I applaud the talented professionals I’m lucky to work with ― engineers who contribute to society in so many ways.

Rick Miller's technical paper featured in Gear Technology Magazine

Indianapolis, Ind. - Innovative Drive Solutions LLC proudly shares that Rick Miller, president and sole member's technical paper was published by Gear Technology Magazine. Miller's technical paper, "Designing Very Strong Gear Teeth by Means of High Pressure Angles" was originally presented by him at the American Gear Manufacturers Association's 2016 Fall Technical Meeting and reprinted in the June 2017 issue of Gear Technology.

 Photo by AGMA

Photo by AGMA

Miller presents a method of designing and specifying gear teeth with much higher bending and surface contact strength (reduced bending and surface contact stresses). His paper shows calculation procedures, mathematical solutions and the theoretical background equations to do this. Read here.

The beautiful music called life

Many have compared life to an orchestra where everyone’s contribution is essential. To make beautiful music together, it’s important to find out what instrument you are best suited for, play it to the best of your ability, and don’t try play a musical instrument you simply are not good at.


Be true to yourself. If you’re an oboe player, be an oboe player, but be the best one you can be. Don’t try to be a saxophone player as there are others who are better suited for it. Find out what instrument you are and play it – only it. We all were created to play a part and to play only our part.

For me, my contribution to the orchestra of life is to be an engineer, something I’ve known for a very long time.

When I was in junior high school, I loved to build plastic model kit cars. My grandmother recognized my bent for all things mechanical and encouraged my hobby by letting me keep the model cars at her house. My 20-plus model car collection resided safely on display in one of grandmother’s spare bedrooms. Had they been in my own bedroom across town, my older brother probably would have smashed them all with a hammer.

My grandmother saw something within me that I hadn’t yet recognized and she nurtured it. She knew I was not necessarily bound for a different career, but one as an engineer or in a related technical field. Perhaps I reminded her of her late husband, my grandfather, who was a mechanical engineer.

So, a lesson here is that even small acts of kindness, caring, generosity and encouragement can make a tremendous impact in a young person’s life. Fifty years later, I still remember hanging out with my model cars at grandma’s house and the significant impact her mentoring had on me.

Grandma knew I was not born to be an oboe player, but would be a darn good saxophone player, and eventually, an engineer.

Sometimes little things can help us to figure out what instrument we are in the orchestra of life, and it may and probably will take others to help us recognize this.

Once you find our niche - your instrument - resist those who say, you can’t do that, it will never work, or we tried that once before and it didn’t work.  People kill ideas if we let them. Don’t let anyone kill your dreams and ideas, and don’t be a dream or idea killer yourself.

Don’t break someone’s spirit, whether that person is an employee, a child, or anyone else. Everyone is an expert at something and you are good at something. Don’t put people in a box and put artificial limits on them.

So, find your part in the symphony orchestra of life. Find your instrument, what you are best suited for, learn to perform it to the best of your abilities and encourage this in others. Accept what your instrument is and don’t despair that you would rather it be something else. Embrace it whatever it is and know everyone’s contribution to the beautiful music of life is needed. This is what you were created for.

The Amphicar: A boat or a car?


During a visit with family to Disney Springs at Walt Disney World in Orlando, I happened upon a one-of-a-kind attraction – a vintage Amphicar ride. In a wanderlust sense of creativity, this vehicle drives on land as easily as it can propel through water. 

In a seemingly outrageous idea that combines two totally separate entities - a car and a boat, the Amphicar performed neither function well. It was not a good car nor a good boat.

The novelty of it even caught the attention of President Lyndon B. Johnson who owned an Amphicar. President Johnson was known to prank his unsuspecting passengers as he drove the Amphicar straight into a lake, much to their shock. 

The Amphicar was produced in West Germany and sold in the U.S. from 1961 to 1967. It was commercially unsuccessful as well, selling less than 4,000 units total.  Some 50 years later, eight perfectly restored Amphicars delight passengers and onlookers alike, with land/water tours launching from Disney Springs’ Boathouse.

By most standards, the Amphicar was a technical failure and was commercially unsuccessful, but failure has lessons for us all.

  • Try something new and unconventional. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but don’t be afraid to try.
  • Think outside the box by combining different functions in the same device. For example, in the Dick Tracy comic strip from decades ago, Tracy had a wrist watch that performed the functions of a two-way radio, telephone and TV all in one. And today, we have the iPhone and Apple Watch that perform these functions.

Some ideas, concepts and devices are not technically feasible at the time of their invention, or are not commercially successful, at least not yet. Sometimes failure is the necessity of innovation. As an inventor, you just have to dream big, time it right and make it happen.  

Rick Miller issued patent for invention of a dual rack output pinion drive

Patent art.png

Indianapolis, Indiana - Rick Miller announces the issuance to him by the U.S. Patent Office of a patent for a dual rack output pinion drive. 

Issued on December 27, 2016, patent No. 9,531,237 is an invention intended to be used for the lifting and lowering of the legs of off-shore oil rig platforms. This patent is Miller’s third and the second in the last 15 months.

This patent describes a device which enables a single motor to drive a gearbox with two outputs, each one of which is a spur gear pinion which then drives a rack. The invention allows for and helps assure torque and load sharing so that near equal torque is applied to each of the two output pinions.

Rick Miller is president of Innovative Drive Solutions, LLC, an Indianapolis-based mechanical engineering design consulting firm.

Miller has 40 years of experience in the gear industry, including 37 years with Oerlikon Fairfield Mfg. Co. in Lafayette, Indiana, the last 16 years as chief engineer. With more than 300 original designs, Miller helps clients in the United States and around the globe with his gear and gearbox design and analysis expertise, creativity and out-of-the-box problem solving abilities. Visit InnovativeDriveSolutions.com.

Gear Solutions magazine Q&A with Rick Miller

I was honored when the editor of Gear Solutions magazine, the number-one B2B publication in the gear industry, selected Innovative Drive Solutions LLC - my design consultancy business - to profile in its November 2016 issue.  

"As an inventor, I am always discovering a solution to every problem to the benefit of my customers," as told to Gear Solutions.

Read the full interview online here or download it here.

Giving back to the profession that has given me so much

Each year, the American Gear Manufacturers Association Fall Technical Meeting provides an outstanding opportunity to share ideas with others in the gear industry on design, analysis, manufacturing and application of gears, and gear drives and related products, as well as associated processes and procedures.

 Photo provided by American Gear Manufacturers Association.

Photo provided by American Gear Manufacturers Association.

And last week in Pittsburgh, the founding location of AGMA, I was among the selected authors to present the results of their work to an audience of knowledgeable professionals from the United States and around the world and to participate in discussions with that audience.


It was a career highlight for me to contribute to the engineering profession as a whole, especially during AGMA’s Centennial Year (1916-2016), while enlightening my peers on a subject I know well.

My technical paper, Designing Very Strong Gear Teeth by Means of High Pressure Angles, illustrates a method of designing and specifying gear teeth with much higher bending and surface contact strength than that of conventional gear teeth. To obtain the abstract, go here.

Miller to present at fall technical meeting

I look forward to presenting my technical paper at the American Gear Manufacturers Association's Fall Technical Meeting on Oct. 3 in Pittsburgh. By sharing with my industry peers the latest methods and cutting-edge technologies, my technical paper - Designing Very Strong Gear Teeth by Means of High Pressure Angles - illustrates a method of designing and specifying gear teeth with much higher bending and surface contact strength than that of conventional gear teeth.

    Innovation for every generation

    It’s National Engineers Week (Feb. 21-27) and there’s plenty to celebrate. Engineers have been making our world a better place since the beginning of time. 

    The first ‘engineer’ was God who, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1) and then marveled at his design. And from that day forward, inventive minds have propelled us out of the Neanderthal era of living in caves to 4,000 B.C. China and when the first evidence of wheeled vehicles were used in rice farming.

    Inventors like Nikola Tesla and Henry Ford challenged norms and changed the way we live. And today, iconic creative minds like Steve Jobs, Dean KamenElon Musk and Burt Rutan continue to dream big and make it happen.

    As always, engineers are solving society’s technical problems by applying scientific principles to advance civilization forward.  

    For those of us who make our living as engineers in a career identified as a “hot job” and those who benefit from our inventions past, present and future, happy National Engineers Week.  

    When opportunity knocks, take notice

    Most people know Bobby Rahal as the Indianapolis 500 race winner from 1986. Do you remember who finished in second place?

    It was Kevin Cogan who today lives in relative obscurity in a suburb of Los Angeles. 

    Rahal went from winning the greatest spectacle in racing to become an Indy car team owner winning in 2004 with Buddy Rice driving across the yard of bricks, to a successful career in business and owner of 16 auto dealerships in Pennsylvania.

    In the 1986 race, fellow Indy car driver Arie Luyendyk crashed on lap 195 out of 200 and Rahal passed Cogan on the restart with two laps between he and the checkered flag.  He took the lead, won the race and earned his rightful place in racing history.

    In an Indy Star article profiling Rahal’s career, Rahal talked about that very day, race, and moment when he saw the opportunity to not settle for second place.  That day, Rahal and Cogan’s lives were changed forever. 

    There are periods in a person’s life when you either go through the door or you never get to knock on it again.
    — Bobbie Rahal

    I often wonder how many people never go through that door called opportunity. Perhaps some never even see the door and miss an opening to go in a new direction, to take a step toward achieving their goals.

    Events in life sometimes present us with opportunities; doors so to speak, and we can either decide to go through them or leave them closed and forever forgo that choice and opportunity; perhaps never getting that chance again. And we can’t always control this (see, Andretti; Mario. He and Rahal each won the same number of Indy 500 races: 1). Sometimes it is simply luck and fortune, although it is often said that people make their own luck.

    Rahal said that in a lot of races (and in life), something happened to put someone in position to win.

    The lesson that Rahal teaches us is that when a high percentage opportunity is offered, take it and go through that door. You may have but a brief moment to consider your choices and the potential consequences. The opportunity to choose may not come again.

    Be bold. Take the action and take the (slight) risk. That is how great things are achieved and how great and successful people act.

    Has opportunity ever knocked on your door, but you failed to open it? Did you miss that one chance in life and it never came around again?  Or, like Rahal, did the decision you made that one day change your life forever?

    Finding space for Martian problem-solving

    Recently, my wife and I watched The Martian, Ridley Scott’s movie starring A-list actor Matt Damon. In this thrilling science fiction drama, NASA astronaut Mark Watney, portrayed by Damon, found himself stranded on Mars, completely alone and with no way to signal Earth 140 million miles away that he’s alive. Against insurmountable odds and with dwindling supplies, Watney refuses to be the first man to die on Mars.  

    To survive, Watney draws upon his ingenuity, his incredible resourcefulness, his engineering and botany skills, and a dogged determination. He solves seemingly unsolvable problems one after the other in a masterful display of intelligence, wit and engineering prowess.

    In the science fiction novel The Martian by Andy Weir, the lead character Watney is portrayed as having earned master’s degrees in botany and mechanical engineering, yet the movie reveals Watney as having a Ph.D in botany with no mention of an engineering degree.

    Whether it be the movie or the novel, with a botany degree and/or a mechanical engineering degree, it’s clear that Watney is one thing – a master at solving problems.

    When failure brought the surety of death, Watney solved problems. And on Mars, alone and left to his own devices for his very existence, he engineered his way to survive and ultimately be rescued.

    As an engineer, I solve mechanical problems for a living. Sometimes the solutions are simple and obvious, but often times they are as mind-bending as trying to find ways to live on Mars.

    I’d like to think I could engineer my way home from an unsustainable planet called Mars, but that’s the folly of science fiction. For now, I’ll keep unleashing my creativity as if my life depended on it from the safety of the planet I call home – Earth. 

    Rick Miller is president / sole owner of Innovative Drive Solution LLC, an engineering consulting firm specializing in gears and power transmission devices.

    Hot job: Mechanical engineers keep things working

    Recently the Indianapolis Star identified my career field as a "hot job" and asked me a few questions to help illustrate how mechanical engineers blend technical skills, science knowledge and creativity to improve and advance mechanics. 

    Indy Star hot jobs 1-8-16

    For as long as I can remember, I knew I was going to be an engineer. For others, their talent, training and intellect opens many professional doors one of which might be engineering. To learn more about the career I love and the hot job others seek, click here.

    Rick Miller is president / sole owner of Innovative Drive Solutions LLC, an Indianapolis-based engineering consulting firm specializing in gears and power transmission devices.


    Rick Miller issued latest patent for invention of a torque sharing drive and torque sharing process

    Indianapolis, Indiana - Rick Miller announces the issuance to him by the U.S. Patent Office of a patent for a torque sharing drive and torque sharing process.

    The patent is for invention No. 9,145,956 issued on September 29, 2015. Miller’s invention is intended to be used for the lifting and lowering of off-shore oil rig platforms.

    The latest patent is the second of Miller’s inventions and a third patent is pending. The U.S. Patent Office issued Miller Patent No. 4549449 in 1985 for his original design of a gear reducer. This invention is a two-speed hydraulically shifted planetary speed reducer serving industries such as construction equipment, road building and general industrial.

    Rick Miller is president and sole owner of Innovative Drive Solutions, LLC, and Indianapolis-based mechanical engineering design consulting firm. Miller has 40 years of experience in the gear industry, including 37 years with Oerlikon Fairfield Mfg. Co. in Lafayette, Indiana, the last 16 years as chief engineer. With more than 300 original designs, Miller helps clients in the United States and around the globe with his gear and gearbox design and analysis expertise, creativity and out-of-the-box problem solving abilities.

    Miller earned a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering technology from Purdue University. He is a member of Society of Automotive Engineers International, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and vice-chairman of the Vehicle Gearing Committee of the American Gear Manufacturers Association.

    Innovative Drive Solutions, LLC is proud member of the American Gear Manufacturers Association. To learn more, visit InnovativeDriveSolutions.com.

    The Sharing Economy: Boats, Beds and Burials at Sea

    Uber and Airbnb are examples of what has come to be known as the “Sharing Economy.” Uber doesn’t own a fleet of cars, but they operate a widely successful ride service using privately-owned cars driven by their owners. Airbnb does not own any hotels or bed and breakfasts; they use local hosts in 190+ countries who rent out their own rooms, apartments and homes. One source of their success is being able to quickly and efficiently connect those desiring their services with those able to provide these same services.

    During a trip to Long Beach, California recently, I marveled at Captain Jonnie Lee’s entrepreneurial spirit. At night, Lee offers renters the opportunity to sleep on his yacht for a fee. By day, he uses the same watercraft for his burial at sea service. As an ordained minister, Lee can also be hired to perform marriages while sailing on his vessel. He’s cleverly found additional sources of income that would not have been captured.

    Shared access to products or services is a not new concept.

    A favorite and frequent destination of mine is the Volo Auto Museum located in Volo, Illinois - a suburb of Chicago.  As a lover of classic and muscle cars, I’ve long known about and admired Volo’s unique business model. Nearly all cars displayed are done so on consignment – the cars are owned by prospective sellers hoping to attract interested buyers who visit the museum. Volo charges the car owners a storage fee; collects an entrance fee to tour the museum and look at cars owned by others, and when a consigned car is sold the museum collects a 10 percent auction fee.  

    In its favor, Volo’s business plan is based on getting others to bear/share many of the costs normally associated with owning and operating a traditional auto museum while capturing significant additional income in the process. It’s a brush stroke of business brilliance; shades of Tom Sawyer getting his friends to whitewash the fence for him.

    The rise of social media platforms, Internet and alternate sources of information has enabled many industries and individuals to reinvent themselves, many times by connecting prospective buyers and sellers.  Recently I heard of a company that empowers its employees to be original and “blow sh!t up” by pushing beyond limits and do things in bigger, better and different ways. Many, if not most old line industries, are and will be subject to some level of disruption and innovation. If they don’t embrace it, their competitors will or already has.

    The Dead tree media is another example. The newspaper industry is dying right before our eyes. Competition has arisen digitally online where the content is free and no subscription is required. As a result, traditional newspapers are either going digital themselves or ending publication.

    Friction is being eliminated in the marketplace because information is easy and instantly accessible and removes the need for gate keepers and third party sources. Information asymmetry, where one party has more or better information than the other, creating an imbalance of power in transactions, is also being eliminated for the same reasons.

    The on-demand or ‘gig’ economy provides labor flexibility. These ideas and others lead to what some are calling the “post ownership economy”.

    Today an author can publish his or her own book for almost no cost and as low of a print quantity of one. And there are many options to fund a project’s start-up costs through crowd funding and crowd sourcing.  So an inventor is able to create or manufacture a product or provide a service using other people’s money.

    Many items that used to require a large company to manufacture can be created with a 3D printer or other type of additive manufacturing device.

    The heavily vertically integrated company of the past is or should be experiencing the effects of these changes in the capabilities available in the marketplace at all stages of the process. Those that are smart and successful will take advantage of these opportunities as they arise and embrace new technologies and new ways of thinking and doing business.  

    As a consulting engineer, I’m often called in to help an organization navigate its future through engineered solutions. It takes a lot of creativity and staying abreast of novel ideas and new technologies which can be applied.

    You may not aspire to have a yacht for rent with a unique business plan, but no matter the size, every organization can and should evolve and improve their methods of providing and selling their goods and services. How are you and your company using new technologies and finding new ways of doing business?

    Advice I Would Give To My 15 Year Old Self

    Consider the life of this younger Rick. As a teenager, I loved cars – really loved cars. I owned my first car at age 15 before I even had a driver’s license. I enjoyed anything that moved under its own power and especially if it went fast, hence, the go-cart.  I can still remember the thrill of having some g-forces against my back while driving my go-cart with the wind in my face and a feeling of utter freedom without a care in the world.

    As much as I admired a good ride in its totality, I also enjoyed taking things apart and rebuilding them. One day I decided my go-cart needed to go faster, so I purloined the engine from my father’s lawn mower. The next time my dad went to mow the lawn, I heard “Hey, where’s my lawn mower engine?”

    I had three siblings - two brothers and a sister, but he knew the answer to this mystery lied with me. I told him I needed it for something more important and re-purposed it, as we would say today. At the promise of returning said engine to my dad’s lawnmower, which I did, my co-cart and I rode fast that day while the grass grew a bit taller.   

    * * *

    So my advice to my 15 year old self would be as follows.

    Your possibilities in life are endless and limited only by you and your imagination. Be flexible. Be true to yourself and your values and don’t compromise them.

    Stay optimistic; don’t get discouraged. Be patient.

    Life does not move in a straight line. Be prepared for the unexpected because it will happen often if not daily. Learn to embrace and be comfortable with change because change will be a constant in your life.

    Set personal and professional goals and you will achieve them. Do know it may take more time than you thought and not be achieved in the exact way that you thought.

    Be prepared to take notice and advantage of opportunities as they arise. Always believe in yourself and know that you are capable of much more than you think. Seek out opportunities that stretch you and where you can learn from others. Never stop learning and growing.

    Just like when you were a teen, never stop being curious.

    All of us have been given gifts and talents; things that we uniquely can do well. Use these gifts to the best of your ability. Don’t dissipate them or let them go to waste. As for a job, do what you love and are passionate about.

    Have some fun in life and be funny. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

    Set up the processes, work habits and practices, work ethic and environment where success can flourish. Develop and keep a long term time perspective and timeline. Do not fall for the trap of instant gratification. Some choices in jobs and in life can pay off in the short term but not be best in the long run.

    When I graduated from Purdue University in the recession year of 1975, I had two job offers; one from a large, multinational corporation, and one from a small 100-employee gear company. Upon my father’s advice and recommendation, and with much personal reflection, I took the job at the small gear company that paid a salary that was 23 percent less than the other offer. While working at the multinational company may have appeared best in the short term, and certainly paid more, the job I chose with the gear company was by far best in the long term. It formed the basis for what I am today and led to my current path.

    Be a person of honesty and integrity and have “do the right thing” as your main philosophy.

    Find a mentor and listen to and learn from him/her. Much of what you learn will be outside of your job, and many times outside of your chosen profession. Pay attention to these things as they will truly set you up for success. Then, pay it forward when you can by mentoring someone else.

    * * *

    Both of my grandfathers were mechanical engineers. One grandfather started a gear company in 1934 called Schafer Gear Works/Schafer Industries that is still in business today and is successful, and the other was Chief Engineer for the Stromberg carburetor/Bendix Fuel Control division of Bendix Corporation with responsibilities for hundreds of people.

    Early in my career, I set goals for myself that were a combination of both of my grandfathers - to be successful in the gear industry, to rise to Chief Engineer, to be an inventor who obtains patents, and to  continue their legacy by excelling in a career in which they could be proud of me. As it happened, all of this came to fruition but neither grandfather lived to see it. 

    Never in my young man’s dreams did I think my 3 HP teenager’s go-cart would be replaced by a 620 HP supercharged Corvette convertible as my favorite mode of transportation. 

    I was of course aware of my grandfathers at age 15, but had only a vague sense of their powerful legacy, the examples they set and the depth and breadth of their professional achievements. Even so, the influence and impact that they would ultimately have on me was significant. As the grandson of two great engineers, what I wouldn’t give to be able to talk to either one of them today.

    Did I know as a car-loving and go-cart driving 15 year old that I would carry on my grandfathers’ legacy? No, but I do know the engineering profession chose me as it did my grandfathers and for that, I’m thankful.    

    Rick Miller is president / sole owner of Innovative Drive Solution LLC, an engineering consulting firm specializing in gears and power transmission devices.

    My mentor and me

    My mentor and I never discussed entering into a mentoring relationship. I never asked and he never offered. But years ago he saw something in me that he deemed valuable, that I was teachable and worthy of his efforts to impart in me lessons of immense value.

    He believed in me and showed it by giving me increasingly difficult design projects. He knew how and when to stretch me.  

    From his lead-by-example tutelage of me and by me doing the work, I grew personally and as a professional engineer. I anticipated that my mentor would teach me the technical side of the business and help me to be a better engineer which he did.  What I didn’t know then was how valuable the technical and non-technical intangible lessons learned would be and how often I would use them in the years that followed.  

    These are the things I learned from my mentor.

    • Create things that are as simple as possible. Anyone can design a complicated device, but it takes skill to reduce a concept to its most simplified and acceptable form.
    • Develop an ability to explain complicated technical concepts in a clear and concise manner. This is the mark of an intelligent person who thinks and communicates clearly verbally and in writing.
    • Less bureaucracy and red tape is better than more bureaucracy. Excessive bureaucracy enables and encourages incompetence and poor performance. 
    • Stretch yourself. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Avoid doing things automatically the same way that they have always been done.  Don’t copy or have “me-too” designs.
    • Be creative; be original. 
    • Don’t limit yourself. Ultimately, you hold the keys to your own performance and success.
    • Find your niche in your organization. People become uniquely valuable, and in a supportive environment, shape their own jobs. 
    • Look for and find ways to do things better, faster, more efficiently and less expensively.
    • The primary rule is “Do the right thing.” Don’t worry about lines of authority, even if it’s not your area of responsibility.  In the end, very few additional rules are necessary.
    • Never say “That’s not my job.” If someone asks you for help, help them if you can. If you aren’t able to help them, find someone who can.
    • Always put the interest of the company first. 
    • Act with honesty and integrity. 
    • Try to achieve work/life balance. 
    • Effort does not equal success; quality and effectiveness does. There are lots of busy failures in life. Don’t be one of them. 
    • Don’t worry about organizational titles. Instead, pay attention to the informal lines of authority and getting results. Work with and value the people who best enable you to achieve your objectives, not those who are insincere or full of themselves. 
    • Be reliable. Be a doer, not a talker. Be a person who gets things done and surround yourself with go-to people who also get results. 
    • Never forget your employer’s ultimate purpose, the goals of the organization you are serving, and who your end customers are. 

    Have you had a mentor or been a mentor?  If so, what lessons did you learn?  What advice did you offer?  

    Rick Miller is president / sole owner of Innovative Drive Solution LLC, an engineering consulting firm specializing in gears and power transmission devices.