Some Stuff I Like to Think I’ve Learned

by Nick Miller

founders 2a

HMMH Founders (from left to right) Nick Miller, Andy Harris, Carl Hanson, and Bob Miller.

I began my career in acoustics, noise, and how people react to noise in 1973 after quitting the Air Force. Not that USAF was a bad experience – it taught me a lot.  After living with pretty liberal parents, and going to liberal universities and colleges for about 8 ½ years, I found I actually could like politically conservative people and shoot an S&W Combat Masterpiece with reasonable precision without really aiming.  But never mind that; it’s just that lessons for life are everywhere.

Anyway, I began at Bolt Beranek and Newman in Cambridge Mass, (BBN) and found myself in a liberal, open-minded organization where my group in environmental noise analysis and control was struggling to find the best ways to resolve or attempt to resolve the relatively new political issue of the public’s dislike of all sorts of noise – from factories to construction to race tracks to new parking garages to planes, trains and automobiles. We worked with and for the likes of Ted Schultz, Ken Eldred, Dick Bolt (testimony about the 18 minute gap in the Nixon tapes fame), Bob Newman, and other brilliant people of whom you may not have heard like Chuck Dietrich, John Shadley, Warren Blazier and other good guys.  Truly a great place to start a career and learn.

As BBN turned away from acoustics to computer workings like design of the internet, Andy, Bob, Carl and I founded HMMH in 1981 (guess what the initials stand for). It was, and continues to be, another great experience, if you can get past the initial stress of putting your house up as collateral.  I remember vividly the day we four with our spouses met with bank representatives and all signed papers tying the future of our homes to our future success (or failure).  Well, we actually succeeded beyond our dreams, had a heck of a good time working together, bringing compatriots in noise into the company, sharing ups and downs, and building a company of more than 40 people.  That may not seem large to most people, but for a boutique business, we thought – “Not bad.”

Andy was president until 1989, and then I was until 2004 when we handed leadership to Mary Ellen. Andy, Bob and Carl have all retired and I will be within a year’s time.  I’ve naturally started wondering what to do next, and what about my 40 plus years of experience?  Do I walk away and leave the battle field of political acoustics or not?  I’m leaning toward going cold turkey.  However, my son-in-law’s father pointed out how much experience, ideas and insights I would be taking away from the industry.

To get to the point, I have decided to at least write a series of blogs describing some of the things I’ve learned about noise and people, leadership and mentoring. This is perhaps a common human desire to pass on something of what one has learned in a lifetime career.  I’ve noticed that a number of old folks like to write books about their accomplishments.  I certainly won’t be doing that.  I’m not sure what I’ve accomplished, but I do know I’ve learned some things.  Also these things are not worth a book; I’m not going to do what I notice some authors do and take a few basic pieces of wisdom and use up 200 to 300 pages talking about them in different ways.

So, I intend to write a series of blogs over the next months. That is my intent, anyway.  I will start with issues of the discipline: noise and people’s reactions thereto in different contexts and to different sources.  This will be fun for me, anyway.

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