Have you heard of Bill Tutte?
I hadn’t until a couple of weeks ago, and yet he played an important role in ensuring the defeat of the Nazis in World War II.
The Enigma machine used by Germany to send encrypted messages is fairly well known nowadays, but the Lorenz machine less so. Without ever seeing the machine, Tutte broke the code. It took him six months.
Every day during that time he sat at his desk, stared into space, and occasionally made marks on paper. His neighbour (who of course wasn’t allowed to ask about his work for security reasons) began to think he was a time-waster.
Tutte was a talented and thoughtful mathematician
Of course he wasn’t, far from it. He had the patience and perseverance to unravel the workings of the Lorenz machine day after day, never knowing if it was even possible to succeed.
Instead of focussing his attention on a distant, invisible goal, he had to ensure that everything he did was careful and logical, and that all possibilities were explored. If one avenue led to a dead-end, then he’d try another, and another, until he made a little progress.
His work paved the way for the creation of Colossus, the world’s first semi-programmable electronic computer. War has a habit of producing huge technological advances.
Take your time and pay attention
Fortunately, most of us are not called upon to do anything with such far-reaching consequences. Yet it’s always important to take your time and to pay attention to the task in hand.
For example, if you’re following a recipe for the first time and miss out an ingredient, your dish will probably turn out badly.
If you don’t read through the email you’ve just written, you risk conveying the wrong message or even offending somebody.
If you’re an artist and don’t pause from time to time to explore different possibilities, you may just miss out on an exciting new creative direction.
Thinking in activity
It’s the same with movement. Pick up a heavy box without paying attention and that’s when you cause strain. Walk along looking at your phone and you won’t see the uneven paving stone in front of you. Do a long drive without reminding yourself to release muscular tension and you’ll end up with a headache.
Alexander Technique is relevant to everyday life, and here’s a tip from your AT teacher. Whatever your activity, however humble, engage with it fully. It’ll pay off in the end!