Damn that Elon Musk! I create a site solving the mystery of why some women’s shirts get tiny holes in them (ShirtHoles.com); he builds the world’s largest electric car company (Tesla). I create The Fart Name List; he sends rockets into space. And, in his spare time, he is designing Hyperloop (the fastest, most ambitious transportation system ever conceived) and revolutionizing the solar industry.
As I spend my days doing toiling away on small projects that don’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things, I feel like I should be doing more. I used to think big. When I bought two retail florists in 2002, my primary goal was to expand my GetFlowers.com website. But, I also had some hope that I could use all my computer and business knowledge to greatly increase the profitability of the stores, and I would then buy more of them. With 100 stores, I would be a floral tycoon. Next I could expand into buying other mom and pop businesses that were easy to run remotely (dry cleaners and laundromats maybe?). If I had 100 stores each making a profit of $50,000/year, I would be making $5 million a year!
That was all well and good, but here’s a little story I have never told anybody. I was thinking even bigger. I was going to disrupt the entire floral industry. All flower shops are pretty much the same, so I needed something to make mine different. I figured that if I were able to make the flowers I delivered last twice as long as those from other shops, the orders would come pouring in. I knew nothing about flowers and nothing about chemistry (other than what I learned in high school), but I had read some articles about various things that can make plants live longer (talking to them? playing certain types of music? I really don’t even remember anymore). So, I set out to develop a better plant food, to replace the generic little packet florists give you. During the two weeks that it took to close the deal on the flower shops, I turned into a mad scientist, making my basement into a laboratory where I tried all sorts of odd concoctions to try to extend the life of some flowers I bought at the local florist. I would feed one of them plant food and water, and then try my own formulas on the rest. My goal was to experiment with liquids no other florist or inventor would ever think of using: diet soda, baking soda, vinegar, fruit juice, club soda, chocolate milk, regular soda, honey, vitamin water, etc. I labeled each experiment, so I knew what was what, and kept a notebook with the results. Nothing I did seemed to hurt the flowers, but alas, none of it made them live any longer. I should have kept trying (Elon would never have given up), but once the two weeks went by, I had to actually deal with running the stores, so I did not have time for such frivolity.
This is what it takes though to do great things. Thinking outside the box. Acting crazy. Not being afraid to fail. All day I walk around with 1,000 times more computer power in my pocket (my iPhone) than geniuses like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had cobbled together in their garage. And, for a few dollars I can run a program on Amazon’s massive network of computers (AWS) and get results for any computation within seconds. This is something that when I was a kid (40 years ago) would have involved renting expensive time on a university supercomputer and then waiting days for the job to process. If I want to start a business, I can have it up and running in less than a week by outsourcing almost everything. I can even sell a product without ever making a working prototype (via Kickstarter.com). I can ship globally with ease (ShippingEasy.com), or deliver locally in an hour or less (remember when only pizza or Chinese food was like that?). Have a question, like if you need FDA approval for the Star Trek tricorder you want to invent? Just Google it. The knowledge of the entire world is at your fingertips.
What do I do with this vast wealth of resources? I make a list of Funny City Names, and add more Silly Cat Photos to the Internet (because there aren’t enough of those already). A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. I want to raise my sails and set out on an adventure. Float away from all the flotsam and jetsam in this digital ocean that I call home. With my map and compass in hand (Siri), I am ready to start a new journey.