Message from the Director: Another Perspective


Almost six years ago, I was in Japan for a “scan tour” to learn how they regularly use asphalt mixtures containing 50% or more recycled asphalt pavement. One day, our group took a break from asphalt technology and visited the Ryōan-ji temple and its famous Zen garden. The Zen garden is a rock garden about the size of a tennis court comprised mostly of carefully raked white gravel. Within this tranquil bed of gravel are fifteen large stones ranging in size from a loaf of bread to a buffalo. There are a number of interpretations about what the stones represent. Some suggest that the garden is merely meant to stimulate meditation. However, what I most remember was that not all 15 stones were visible from any single vantage point. Some of the stones were hidden behind others. If you moved to another point along the perimeter, you could then see those “hidden” stones, but then others were no longer in view. The inspiring lesson was that you must sometimes change your point of view to see the whole picture.

This is true for many of life’s experiences. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work for a state DOT, a contractor, and a research organization. Each of these steps taught me to take different perspectives on the realities of building and maintaining public roads. Something I didn’t appreciate when I worked for the highway agency was the real challenge of getting a mix design to meet the specifications with the available materials and then having to make adjustments in the mix to keep it within the specification limits during production. The realities of materials, sampling, and testing variabilities were eye-opening when I began wearing a contractor’s hat.

Recently, we hosted the National Balanced Mix Design Implementation Conference. The last part of the conference featured breakout sessions where participants were randomly assigned to small groups to discuss several critical issues related to balanced mix design implementation. Each person was given the chance to voice their views on the issues and then respond with a possible solution via a poll. In my closing comments to the conference, I asked everyone if their mind had been changed after hearing the perspectives of others in their group. Most people raised their hands.  

Often, taking another perspective allows us to see the something that was not evident from where we first stood. It may not be an epiphany that’s revealed in a Zen garden, but listening to and considering someone else’s opinion will help us see the circumstances more fully.

Randy C. West, Ph.D., P.E. | Director and Research Professor