Seven billion people can’t all be right or wrong. If we were all right about the same thing at the same time it would be spooky. Of course, maybe that’s what a common cosmic consciousness would be like. If we were all wrong about the same thing at the same time, that would potentially be tragic. Somewhere in the universe, that’s happen to a civilization. We never have unanimous agreement. There are even people who place the planet above all, and think the only way for it to thrive is to get rid of us. Fortunately, we rarely all agree. That may seem like a bad thing, and the cause of much suffering, but it is also the reason we may yet find solutions to our problems. Cheer the innovators.
My passion is for people and ideas. It makes for some fascinating conversations. It is one reason I enjoy consulting with artists and entrepreneurs. They are people with passions as well, and most of their ideas are aimed at solving problems. Somewhere between where we are and where we need to get is a bridge that will be built by someone with the right idea.
My other passion has also been stymied lately. The corporate version of the artists and entrepreneurs is the startup company with a disruptive idea. There are companies that aren’t just trying to build a better mouse trap. They’re trying to trap the mouse and get it to work for us. The body is confused about how to fight cancer? Retrain it rather than launch a separate assault. Electricity has a bottleneck called copper cable? Superconduct it. Signals need to be switched faster than materials allow? Build a switch with almost no moving parts. TVs and monitors are too fragile and bulky and use far too many resources? Throw away the screen and play with the light. Those are the stories of Dendreon, Geron, American Superconductor, GigOptix, and MicroVision. I act upon my passion for their ideas by buying their stocks (DNDN, GERN, AMSC, GIG, and MVIS.) That outlet for my passion has been stymied because, even when the companies make progress, their stocks languish – and in some cases become involved in bankruptcies.
A long time friend, fellow blogger, fellow ex-aerospace engineer, and fellow inventor has lived within the realm of invention for years. That’s how he makes his money. Over on his blog, ideaworth, he points out the realities of pursuing your passions. Most ideas fail. That’s an oversimplification though. The ideas don’t fail. What fails is the implementation of the idea. If an idea was obvious everyone would already know it. That means the inventor needs more than the skill of inventing. The inventor must also develop the skill of convincing (and recognizing when a great solution can’t find a problem to solve). The data show that persuasion is not as prevalent within the inventive. Many good ideas never get their opportunity to meet the people who need them.
(He’s also one of the most articulate and vocal back channel commenters to this blog and I encourage you to encourage him to post his responses as guest posts to this blog. The man has good insights and a slightly different perspective, which I appreciate – and which I think should be made more public. That offer is also out there for folks that have more to say than will fit into the Comments section. If you have something to say, say it, or better yet, write it down. It may get posted.)
The world does not lack ideas. Even in the small community that is Whidbey Island, I’m asked about a new project every week or so. Some are simple solutions to small problems. Don’t underestimate how much people will appreciate good granola or biscotti. People laughed at the concept of high-end coffee and now Starbucks is responsible for inspiring thousands to open independent gourmet coffee shops, and has dramatically improved the lives of coffee growers.
On a grander scale, graphene continues to amaze engineers and scientists with unexpected properties. Go check my Pretending Not To Panic blog for links. Graphene was an accidental and innocuous discovery. Ever since we began burning candles we’ve been making graphene, but we didn’t know it. It is deceptively simple. Graphene is simply a sheet of carbon. But, because that is all it is, it can do amazing things. A sheet of it isn’t like a regular material. Most materials are made of lots of chemicals, collections of molecules held together with chemical bonds. A sheet of graphene is a molecule. There is no upper limit to the size of a sheet of graphene. A house-size sheet of graphene would be a house-size sheet of one molecule. Molecular bonds are far tougher than chemical bonds. The frequently sited example is that an elephant standing on a pencil couldn’t poke through a sheet as thick as plastic wrap. Imagine roads and houses built from such a material, which just happens to be trapped carbon. Weirdly enough, use it right and it filters hydrogen out of the air, fuel from thin air. Use it right and it is waterproof, so that extra strong road and roof don’t leak. Bullet-proof clothes can become common, which raises additional issues.
As much as I am a fan of graphene, I am a fan of the people who are willing to take risks and examine the accidental outcomes. The stock market currently doesn’t acknowledge innovation. The great money pouring into the market and driving it to new records is coming in from large portfolios and is directed at conventional companies, or companies that received massive cash infusions at their start. To some, Microsoft and Apple may be innovative, but they are decades old. Most truly innovative firms are starved for funding, then either collapse or are bought out and absorbed. While it would eventually beneficial if their innovations were then championed by the larger firm, they are more likely to be sequestered so they don’t challenge conventional products. Fortunately, that doesn’t stop passionate people from innovating.
What do you see when you look at a seed? Do you see something to sprinkle on a bun? That’s where millions of sesame seeds go. Do you see something to plant? That’s how you can get another plant. Do you see a forest, that just needs fertile soil and patience? Innovators, dreamers, inventors, and entrepreneurs can be considered nuts. What do I see? Nuts grow trees. Trees grow forests. Forests can cover continents. Our world needs more forests. A person who simply needs the right environment and a bit of time to create something far larger, grander, and globally pervasive than one person – they are my passionate hope.