"I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe"
Self Discipline #1: Never mind what you think – listen.
As he put it; thinking was considered to be an utterly unreliable process when spontaneously attempted by youth.
So he did what he was told, for a while.
Self Discipline #2: Love thy neighbour
His grandmother taught him to love thy neighbour as thyself, do unto others as you would they do unto you.
Self Discipline #3: Life is hard
His uncles' life is hard principle encouraged young Richard to accept that if he were to provide for himself and a family then he would have to deprive other people of a comfortable life. Survival of the fittest took over.
Self Discipline #4: Follow the rules
The rules seemed to be written by others and Fuller began to accept that he needed to follow them. He ignored his own thinking and trained himself as you would train to play football, to follow the rules of the game of life.
Self Discipline #5: Learn to cope
With this ideology taking firm hold, it seemed that he couldn't bring himself to win over and sacrifice others to his own ends. After leaving the Navy and finding himself in the competition based business world, he turned out, as he called it, “a spontaneous failure”. He says; “I was sure I could cope with hardship better than the other guy, so I would yield”. It seems he struggled to operate in this dog eat dog world of business.
Self Discipline #6: Form an integrated self
In 1907 it was poet Robert Burns who inspired Fuller with his 1786 poem, To A Louse, and the line; “O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!” 2 Fuller opted to integrate the self he saw as him, with the self others saw and to deal as objectively as possible, the world around him. With this conviction, he began recording his life in what he called “The Chronofile”, which consists of every written record of his engagements both good and bad, with the world and others in it.
Today, Fuller's Chronofile is housed at Stanford University 3 and contains an entire account of his life and work from that fateful day in 1907.
Self Discipline #7: See oneself as an experiment
After his return from the edge of dispair, Fuller sought to set himself as the subject in a life long experiment with himself as the guinea pig. The experiment was designed to uncover what, if anything, a healthy young male of average size, experience and capability, with dependants, no capital or access to credit, could do to effectively alter the fortunes of humanity.
A brave move, something that goes against popular convention and advice one would be expected to receive given Fuller's financial condition at this time. Later in the book he admits that things not always went to plan. Sometimes he had to take jobs to pay the bills, but eventually he would return to his base commitment and continue his experiment.
Self Discipline #8: Serve all humanity
Perhaps an idealistic and naive position to take, Fuller dedicated himself to provide solutions to all humanity's problems and to serve the interests through his work, of all human beings as opposed to traditional personal and business motivations which aim to self serve first and foremost.
He insists that the decision was not taken recklessly or on an naively altruistic basis, but rather on the basis of evidence contained in his Chronofile, which demonstrated that when he was motivated to serve others first, then he would be adequately compensated.
Self Discipline #9: Do your own thinking
He sought to do all his own thinking, confining it to information gained directly from his personal experience. He sought to move from a centred place of innate motivational integrity rather than trying to accommodate the opinions, values and theories of other people.
Self Discipline #10: Never at the cost of others
He sought to pursue and develop his ideas for the benefit of everybody and at the expense or cost to nobody else.
Every atom and electron is an essential part of the eternally regenerative – ergo, totally inexhaustible, but always ebbing and flowing – pulsative Universe.
R. Buckminster Fuller
Self Discipline #11: Emancipate humanity from unfavourable conditions
Buckminster Fuller sought to reduce his technological ideas to physically working models, designed to counter existing unfavourable conditions, predominant customs and societal afflictions so much so that he could emancipate human beings from their unfavourable conditions.
These new inventions would provide society with technological advances and reforms that previously proved impossible by social reform. He sought to reform the environment through technology, not human beings.
Self Discipline #12: Never promote oneself
Fuller sought never to promote or sell himself or pay anyone else to do so. A remarkable position to take, the extent of the detail of which I am not fully aware. However, this self-discipline is very interesting to me, for how does someone spread the word about their product or service if we were not to promote it? This question needs further investigation on my part.
He went on to say that he would never hire agents or personnel who would solicit the support of any kind for his work. He held that humanity would adopt his new systems and inventions when there became a survival need which would come about by evolutionary means.
Self Discipline #13: Develop patience
Fuller assumed that nature and the universe as a whole, had its own unique gestation period, not only for biological elements but for technological inventions also.
Self Discipline #14: Accept the spontaneity of acceptance
Fuller believed that humanity would inevitably adopt the devices and systems he created and so he sought to develop his artifacts with the necessary time margin anticipated. In other words, he believed that there was no need to rush his work or push or pressure for his ideas to be adopted. He assumed that nature would evaluate his work as he progressed providing he worked with nature's fundamental principles.
Self Discipline #15: Learn most from mistakes
He sought to learn the most from his mistakes but never to ponder in worry or procrastination. When he did so he felt sad, but when he always sought to learn and progress, he felt happy. Therefore the way forward was practical.
Self Discipline #16: Waste no time in worry
As mentioned above, Fuller sought not to ponder failure and instead, as he put it; I sought to…increase time invested in discovery of technological effectiveness.
Self Discipline #17: Document progress in the official records
Fuller had no university degree, so in order to document his progress in the public records, he sought patents for all his inventions. Some of these expired worthless, some provided an income but as he stresses in Critical Path, his motive was not to make money from the patents.
Self Discipline #18: Comprehend the principles of regenerative Universe
Above all, Fuller sought to understand and work with, the fundamental principles of what he termed; “eternally regenerative Universe” and subsequently implement these principles in the design and manufacture of his artifacts.
Self Discipline #19: Educate oneself comprehensively
The breath and depth of scientific knowledge is vast, but that didn't stop Fuller from undertaking the comprehensive education of himself. He sought to digest comprehensively the inventory of human understanding of all chemical compounds, weights, performance characteristics, effect of the interalloyability and so on.
It didn't stop there. Fuller undertook to consume all the data he could related to economics, global demographics, energy production capabilities, logistics and vital statistics yet amassed by human beings.
A tall order.
Self Discipline #20: Operate on a do-it-yourself basis
He sought only to operate as a business of one – a remarkable undertaking I'm sure you'll agree. If he couldn't do it by his own ingenuity then it wouldn't be done.
Self Discipline #21: Provide advantage to new life
Inspired by the healthy birth of his second child, Allegra in 1927, Fuller says; I oriented what I called my “comprehensive, anticipatory design science strategies” to primarily advantage new life to born within the environment-controlling devices I was designing and developing”.
He realised the problems humanity encountered would take fifty years to solve and organised groups such as governments and corporations were incapable of providing the solutions. For his daughter and all new human life to live in a better world, he would have to get his hands dirty.
Self Discipline #22: The role of God
Given Fuller's religious upbringing, it seems from reading his work that he needed to somehow integrate the God of his religion into the set of beliefs he built based on scientific knowledge and personal experience. For many, God does not belong in science. However, I believe that a God of sorts, a universal animator, can be reconcilable with all of this. Buckminster Fuller seemed to understand the same.
In his final note on his self-disciplines, he refers to this final one as perhaps containing the greatest weight and influence. As such I think it best to offer Fuller in his own words.
At the outset of my resolve not only to do my own thinking but to keep that thinking concerned only with directly experienced evidence, I resolved to abandon completely all that I ever had been taught to believe. Experience had demonstrated to me that most people had an authority-trusting sense that persuaded them to believingly accept the dogma and legends of one religious group or another and to join that group's formalized worship of God. I asked myself whether I had any direct experiences in life that made me have to assume a greater intellect than that of humans to be operative in Universe…I said to myself, I am overwhelmed by the only experientially discovered evidence of an a priori eternal, omni-comprehensive, infinitely and exquisitely concerned, intellectual integrity that we may call God, though knowing that in whatever way we humans refer to this integrity, it will always be an inadequate expression of its cosmic omniscience and omnipotence.