"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can’t read or write but rather those who are unable to learn, unlearn, and relearn."
~ Alvin Toffler
Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with the product manager of one of OptiFuse’s distributor partners.
While discussing some slight variation of one of our products that one of his might want, we began talking about a wish-list of products that he would someday like us to develop.
He had several good ideas about possible applications and potential markets for these products.
Currently, about 20% of all the products we sell are customized for specific customer needs. Usually the changes are typically modifications in a standard product that incrementally helps a customer solve a problem.
In these situations, there is a need, and we help to create a product that solves that need.
What was a little strange about our conversation was that the ideas that we were coming up with, really had no customer demand at this point in time.
This was the "build it and they will come" way of thinking... and it is truly the scariest of all entrepreneurial endeavors.
This is not a "build a better mousetrap" type of venture... with that type of product... there is a need (mice that need to be rid of) and you have a better, faster, less expensive way of doing it.
No... this is more like "build a new widget that no one has ever used before or that no one knows that they need".
Very often there is no existing market or perceived need for this product... so a market demand needs to be created from scratch.
This is art at its very core. Creating something from nothing and introducing it to a market that does not currently exist... at least not yet.
These are the ideas that radically change the world... and the fortunes of its inhabitants.
...but sadly, most people fail at their attempt to create art... they fail because they never start.
The reason people never start is simple... they’ve been taught all their lives to comply with the status quo rather than to take a risk and create something new.
In schools across America and the world, children are given a strict set of rules and told to embrace those rules. Those choosing to follow the rules are lauded; those choosing to break the rules are punished.
There are seating charts, schedules, lesson plans and rubrics (a standard of performance for a defined population in "education speak").
The rules are there for one expressed purpose... to assist in the management and measurement of teachers and students.
The famous business management guru, Peter Drucker, summed it up best when he wrote, "you can only manage what you can teach and measure"... and schools have taken measurement to new heights.
Tests are given regularly to students to measure the information stored in their brains. The more information that they can regurgitated at a moment’s notice, the higher the student’s grade and subsequent positive reinforcement from teachers, parents and peers.
Rarely, if ever, is creativity and innovation taught and even more rare... is it tested...
The reason for this is simple... teachers simply don’t know how to teach it... and creativity can’t be accurately measured with a standard test... and once again if you can’t measure it... you can’t manage it...
I find that in today’s world, especially in America, the situation is exasperated with the over-programming of children’s activities outside of school and the advent of providing kids with a power computer and internet connectivity.
No longer are kids allowed to create new simplistic adventures for themselves out in the world... the kids have now been programmed to only accept highly supervised and highly structured activities.
I was recently talking with my step-daughter and some of her friends while they were over our house the other day.
They mentioned that they were bored and wanted me to take them to the mall.
I explained that I was busy at the moment and that maybe they could go outside and build a fort in the canyon behind our house and have an adventure.
They at first stared at me as though I had spoken to them in Chinese... and then all of a sudden they all burst out laughing hysterically...
After some time one of them spoke after perhaps drying her eyes of tears, "Sure... go into the canyon and build a fort... why don’t you just tell us to go down to the zoo and jump into the tigers’ enclosure"... more laughter ensued... as I left the room...
This same attitude then follows the young people as they progress to the universities and colleges after their el-hi education.
While there is some autonomy provided to the students (attendance is not generally taken and homework rarely collected and graded), there is little attention given to those students displaying a great deal of creativity... especially in the scientific, math, or engineering fields... where there is but one correct answer for each question.
It’s no wonder then, when these same students enter the work force, they are ill-prepared and trained to actually think critically and take initiative.
A few weeks ago, I found myself at one of the local college campuses at a career fair. Hundreds of students came by my table to ask me about the availability of internships as these types of positions seem to be in high demand by students.
I explained that OptiFuse had several potential projects that could be very interesting work for someone wanting to gain valuable practical experience as an intern. I added that the internship was a paid position because I expected certain tangible results from completing these projects.
I gave each of them my business card and told them if they were self-motivated, highly creative, and interested in developing some new marketable skills that they should call me to set up a meeting where I could explain the details of some of the various projects.
Four weeks later, I have yet to receive a single call or e-mail.
It appears that the young adults I spoke with are incapable of taking initiative to actually reach out and set a meeting... they would rather sit passively waiting for me to call them than to actually pick up the phone and risk rejection.
This type of passiveness isn’t relegated to students.
There are plenty of people whom I know personally who are deathly afraid of "creating waves" or "rocking the boat" at their job... they have been trained well... to put their heads down...
and stay busy... stay compliant... stay the course...
Don’t do anything extra... don’t look for new ways to do things... don’t take on more responsibility (unless it comes with more money and/or better title)... and never ever ask questions.
I too have been found guilty myself of these same crimes...
Being too busy with the urgent to focus on the important... designing products that are incrementally better rather than creating new unique products from scratch... keeping my head down instead of looking up to take notice of my surroundings...
We all need to find a way to unlearn the lessons of mediocrity and compliance and instead retrain our brains to find the creativity and excellence that is buried in each of us.
It’s a scary proposition... but in this new age what is our alternative?
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse as we join together to create new ideas that will change the world...
Jim Kalb President
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter - @OptiFuse
Website - www.optifuse.com
Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com