The Power of "Trimtabs": What Bucky Fuller Taught Me About Human Greatness

09/22/2014 03:45 pm ET Updated Nov 22, 2014
CANADA - JANUARY 04:  Remembering when Bucky Fuller dropped by to talk poetry. One small man with such an enormous mind.   (P
CANADA - JANUARY 04: Remembering when Bucky Fuller dropped by to talk poetry. One small man with such an enormous mind. (Photo by Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

What sparks human greatness? I believe it arises the moment we stop believing we are powerless and start trusting that while we may only be a single individual, we have within us the power to change the world. Allow me to clarify. In the early 1980's I had the privilege of working with Buckminster Fuller as his event producer. "Bucky" as he liked to be called was the inventor of the geodesic dome and was one of the world's greatest thought leaders. Thousands of people gathered in auditoriums around the country to hear him address the question, "How can a single individual make a difference in the world?"

At those events, Bucky told a story of when the Navy commissioned him to solve a critical engineering problem at the height of World War II. As the war raged on the high seas ever-larger battle ships were needed to seize the advantage. As these "great ships of state" as Bucky called them grew in size, their steering mechanisms required more power to turn their rudders than their engines could produce. His revolutionary invention not only solved this crucial military problem it created a new paradigm for human greatness.

Bucky's invention was called a "Trimtab," a small six-inch wide strip of metal attached by hinges to the trailing edge of a ship's rudder. As an engine's hydraulics force the Trimtab into the path of oncoming water, the pressure generated against it assists the rudder in making its turn. Next, Bucky posed that like this tiny sliver of metal can alter the course of a great ship of state, you and I as little individuals can change the course of humanity.

This can be an unrealistic concept, especially when we are feeling small or inadequate. I remember an pivotal interaction with Bucky just prior to the start of an event, my biggest production ever. I was overwhelmed and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. I recall blurting out these words..."Bucky, I'm failing! I can't do it...it's impossible!" I'll never forget what he said. "VJ, you're correct that the impossible can't happen. But what about the possible? And perhaps a more important question...Who determines what is possible and what is not?"

I let it sink in for a moment and then I got it! If I kept believing it was impossible and I was incapable, I would never succeed. Without believing in myself enough to say "it is possible and I can do it," I was destined to fail. To finish the story, I did say it was possible that day and it was my best production ever! So how does one become a Trimtab? By assimilating its qualities and characteristics. Let's explore some of them.

Move Into the Current

A Trimtab moves directly into the currents that oppose it. It actually uses opposition, adversity, and resistance to accomplish its goal. A Trimtab relies on the forces pressing against it to leverage its power. Using opposition in this way is uncommon yet extremely powerful. A few questions now...How do you engage with opposition? What new possibilities might arise if you shift your mindset to embracing resistance instead of fighting it or ignoring it?

Stay Straight and True

A Trimtab remains straight and true when the pressure is on to go with the flow. Its composition must be durable enough to withstand extreme opposition. Tin or copper is insufficient but titanium better meets the challenge. How strong is your resolve? Can you stay true to your convictions in the face of pressure or when others shun or judge you harshly? A Trimtab stays firmly connected to its rudder even in the roughest of seas.

Full Range of Movement

A Trimtab engages in a full range of movement. Although its composition is rigid, its hinges are flexible and it is this freedom of movement that gives a Trimtab its true power. If it were welded solidly to one side of the rudder it would paralyze the ship and cause it to travel in predictable circles. Our rigidity and unwillingness to engage in a wide expanse of emotional experiences is like this and limits our growth and restricts our power.

We've been taught that we are too fragile to deal with intense pain or suffering; as if we are incapable of experiencing life's full-on challenge. Are you willing to engage in challenging conversations? What about being flexible enough to open to both pain and joy? Love and loss? Sweetness and sorrow? Is there not value in stretching into both ends of life's continuum?

Being a Trimtab is not for the faint of heart, but for those who realize that the fear of failing is less important than the possibility of making a difference. If just one single person has the power to change the world as Bucky suggested, what might we accomplish together if we stopped empowering the impossible and started making the possible happen?