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  December 16, 2011
One of Seven Billion...


On October 31, 2011, the population of the earth reached 7 billion human beings.

7 billion is a big number.  To put it in perspective, if you had such a special talent that was shared by just one person out of a million....there would only be 7,000 people just like you in this world.

Yet with so many people, each one of us is an individual with our own thoughts, dreams and fears.  We each have a history and a destiny.  We are each unique in our own special way.

I was at the mall last Tuesday afternoon doing a bit of Christmas shopping when I happened to go into a store devoted to selling Lego blocks.  Inside the store, there was a large play area with thousands of loose Lego blocks for customers, young and old, to experiment and play with.

Children and their parents were busy manufacturing different items using an assortment of building blocks.  I stood by watching them through the store window as they carefully erected their various designs.  There were no instructions or models.  The patrons simply used their own imagination and creativity to create something from nothing.

As I stepped into the store, I asked several of the children what it was that they were making.  Their responses were varied but precise. 

"I’m building a dinosaur", said one boy.

"I’m making a monster truck", another chimed in.

"It’s a special underwater car", explained a young girl.

Sometimes the creation looked like the artist’s description...and other times it didn’t...but who am I to judge someone else’s creativity?

If we were to be given a box of Legos, what is it that we would build?  Would we build something practical like a house or a jet plane?  Would we make something that is part fantasy and part reality, like a dragon or a special underwater car?  Perhaps we’ll invent something that doesn’t exist but that we alone can only imagine.

When I was a young boy, we created geometric works of art using wheels and geared disks called a Spirograph.  There were specific instructions that directed the "artist" to insert the pen into particular holes in the disk and then rotate the disk around a larger geared disk to create shapes. 

"Paint by numbers" was also popular, where the artist could recreate a painting by carefully applying a certain colored paint to a numbered spot on the outline drawing.

These games, as well as other crafts such as assembling model cars or planes, were designed to help release the creativity from inside all of us in a simple 1-2-3 method.  Do step one, then complete step two before proceeding to step three...

What I have found is that most people generally like this step-by-step approach.  They crave the predicted results from completing a known process.  This for that.  Quid pro quo.

Unfortunately, real-life isn’t predictable or a known process (at least for most people).  There isn’t a "life-by-numbers" or a set of simple instruction telling us what to do next.  We can create goals and measure the results but we first need to decide where we want to be at the end of the journey before we set our course of action to get there.  And therein lies the rub...

Many of us are looking for leaders to tell us where we should go, what we should think or believe, or what we should value.  We want answers.  We want direction.  On one hand, we want to know what lies beyond the horizon but we also fear the unknown or the unpredictable.

We want to look at the puzzle box to get an idea of what the puzzle will look like before we put all of the pieces together.  We want to know what the end is before we begin.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to meet a gentleman named Randy Fields.  Now you probably have never heard of Randy Fields but you may have heard of his former wife, Debbie Fields...Mrs. Fields of cookie fame and fortune.

He explained to me that Mrs. Fields Cookies relied on individuals who were excessively extroverted and who displayed a very outgoing personality.  Although they could give an applicant a battery of personality tests to determine if they had what it would take to be a success at Mrs. Fields Cookies, Randy developed a much more reliable test. 

At the end of the first interview, without warning, the interviewer would simply ask the applicant to sing "Happy Birthday".  If the applicant was too embarrassed, or sang too quietly or simply too mechanically, they were no longer considered as a potential employee at Mrs. Fields. 

I should (but don’t) have a simple test for anyone applying to work at OptiFuse.  Give each applicant a blank piece of white paper and a fresh box of 64 crayons (the box with the build-in crayon sharpener in the back) and ask them to create something... anything... no instructions other than that.  If the person just sat there waiting for me to tell them what to draw or how to draw it, then it would probably be a good indication of what to expect in the future from that person...someone who waited for instructions before acting.

I truly believe that if I had incorporated that exercise into my interview process many years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of grief and headaches. 

One of our core company philosophies that I like to explain to new hires is that OptiFuse has never fired an employee for making a wrong decision...however we have indeed parted ways with several employees who refused to make decisions at all.  Everyone here is empowered to make decisions and contribute using their own special creativity.

As the earth continues to flatten, many process driven job functions are being outsourced to places where wages are lower than that of developed nations.  The positions that will remain in those countries are those where critical thinking and creativity are the rule not the exception. 

Despite the best efforts of some, globalization is an e-mail that has been already sent...there is no way to stop or recall it.  It’s a foregone conclusion.  This is the new reality.

Our only hope to maintain our employment base is to develop thinkers and creators rather than doers.

I was indeed awe inspired by the children I saw playing with Legos at the mall.  These are the same kids who will one day grow up to be inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, engineers, problem solvers and great thinkers. 

This Christmas perhaps we need to consider giving gifts (especially to children and young adults) that teach us to think and/or create rather than those that cause us to process or react. 

Maybe each person needs their very own box of crayons and blank sketch pad to create whatever inspires them.

Only in this way, will we allow ourselves to possibly stand above the other 7 billion inhabitants of this planet and be counted as a difference maker.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where as we try to develop big ideas for a big world. 


Jim Kalb

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