This morning I was struck by a thunderbolt of “Libertarian clarity”. It all started with buying a cup of coffee from my local 7-11 store after a very early morning walk.
Now one would surmise that this simple task would be the most straight forward thing that a person could do. Not so. Apparently I chose the wrong cup – meaning that my $1.00 coffee now had been upgraded to $1.67 because it was poured into a “latte cup” instead of a “coffee cup”. Within seconds I realized that my soft protests were either not understood or being ignored by the cashier. So, rather than keep a line of grumpy construction workers waiting I opted to pay the difference and accept the financial penalty of not recognizing that obviously coffee belongs in a coffee cup!
Then, while trying to process what had just happened and enjoy the peaceful stillness that comes at the start of a new day, it hit me.
Rules, regulations and procedures have become the norm for everyday life. In California, water restrictions have been set into laws and regulations administered by various newly created state agencies. Watering your lawn, washing your car and personal daily water usage are all now subject to review and restriction. Municipalities everywhere regularly impose many other standard regulations that cover everything from how high to build your fence to hours for construction work to the need to clean up after your dog and properly dispose of what remains of his last meal.
Just to be clear. I like rules. They set down a order to how a society can function with the least amount of internally generated chaos. Imagine how we would get around without simple traffic lights or road signs.
Even as children we are taught to obey the rules. Once, while at an investment conference, I ran across an individual who was definitely beating his own philosophical drum. Sometimes “these people” are entertaining and sometimes they are downright frightening. This particular fellow gave me an insight into education that I had not heard before. He asked: “Why do you go to school until Grade 12? Why not grade 10 or 11 or 13 or 14?” I replied that I really hadn’t thought about it too much before but suggested that it was probably linked to maturity and young adulthood – a reasonable assumption. Well, his reply, which I have never forgotten, was: “It takes 12 years to brainwash a child”.
So where I am going with this collection of amusing vignettes? How are they connected?
Think about innovation. What comes first, the idea or the invention? Ideas come from inspiration and inspiration is a creative force. Economists used to characterize events that they could not explain by theory by using the term “animal spirits”. Inspiration is like that, we know it is there when it happens but we can’t explain it or call upon it when we need it.
Some of the most successful inventors/innovators left school early to pursue their passion for invention. Zukerberg and Gates left Harvard early and Jobs exited Reed college before his first semester was complete. It is clear that educational focus was not as strong as pursuing a goal driven by inspiration.
Inspiration can be a strong guiding light for success. Examining success a bit more reveals that some age old adages may indeed apply. Such as, what comes first – confidence or success?
Confidence is an obvious derivative of inspiration. How many times have you heard the same message paraphrased like this: “He (she) always knew what they wanted or always knew that they would be successful”?
Today’s generation have before them the opportunity for great success and contribution or the possibility of unequaled failure. They are going to harness technology or technology will harness them. The world’s greatest ever library – the internet – is, of itself, not enough to drive invention and innovation. What is needed is inspiration, imagination and the ability to break free of our rule based society so that original thought can take hold and germinate.