Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Invent a multi-billion dollar industry in your spare time

Ideas are everywhere. All you have to do is pay attention.

I almost never stop thinking about things going on at my job. It's an obsession that my wife sometimes wishes I'd stop but there's no gum or patch to help you break that particular addictive cycle. That approach doesn't work for everybody, but it works for me. That's not to say that I'm writing code or authoring documentation 24/7, not even close. I do spend a lot of time thinking about the problems I have at work and I find that ideas come to me while I'm doing other things, like mowing the lawn or loading the dishwasher. They flow easier when I'm not distracted by the mechanics of daily cubicle life.

I'm not alone.

In the late 1940's and early 1950's there were was a Hollywood industry leader who worked very hard for the company he built from the ground up with his brother. Orthogonal to his passion for his job, he liked to spend time with his two young daughters on the weekends. Sometimes, he'd take them to Griffith Park and there they rode the carousel and other attractions.

It struck this man that it was a shame that he was trying to spend time with his daughters, but they rode things that didn't interest him while he watched. Why, he thought, wasn't there a clean, safe place for families to take in amusements like this together? Being Walt Disney, the man decided to create one. When he eventually built Disneyland, he created the theme park industry almost by mistake.

(Wow, I went 2 whole months without a Disney-related entry after not one, but two in February. If you know me well, you know how much restraint that took 8))

You and I are not Walt Disney. He had legendary creativity that most people only begin to approach and he also, by that time, built quite a bit of wealth to help turn his dreams into realities without having to answer to too many others. Even with the benefits of his earlier achievements, people told him he was crazy. He eventually overcame that thinking and made his idea a reality. In the process, he happened to spawn a multi-billion dollar industry that culminated in Walt Disney World in Orlando being the #1 tourist destination in the entire world.

The idea for a theme park didn't come from a focus group or a marketing trend. It came from a guy not liking how he was spending time with his family. He was just living his life, but constantly paid attention to things going on around him. By doing that, he found idea sparks that others missed. There are lots of other examples including Velcro, which came into existence when Georges de Mestral noticed plant seeds that stuck to his clothing, and a more recent story about Sambazon (covered well on Liz Handlin's blog) about how two guys built a company out of an observation they made on a surfing trip.

The point is that if you carefully observe the world around you and have work problems in the back of your mind, ideas come to you in unlikely places. Turn your mind off completely and you miss those opportunities. Who knows what new industry you might create?


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 10:44 PM   2 comments


At 11:54 AM, Blogger Liz said...

Great post! Thanks for mentioning my blog too.

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Great advice for everyone in technical fields like IT, Law, and Medicine.


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