Saturday, March 1, 2014

Miscellany

My last two posts here were about corporate wrong-doing and stupidity, and you might think that that is all that's on my mind of late. And it would be easy to slip into that mode of thinking, especially since my wife works for a large corporation and brings home so many wonderful examples that I could be drawing from.

But there are many things on my mind lately. I was just watching a documentary on an independent film channel I discovered (on my Sony Blu-Ray player, of all things) about the lies that are perpetuated through our various monuments. It made me think about how much I enjoy learning about history the way it really is, and not the way it's taught in school, or in popular culture. The truth might hurt, but it is, in the long run, a better story, with fewer perfect heroes and more human beings.

I've also been having fun listening to TED Talks. I don't always agree with everything that's said, but I almost always find it interesting. Earlier today I was listening to a gentleman from India named R.A. Mashelkar, talking about innovations in India aimed at, as he put it, creating more with less for more and more people. In other words, not just making things more available and affordable, but making them radically more available and affordable, for the 4 billion people in the world who survive on less than two dollars a day.

He starts out talking about the $2000 Tata Nano car, an amazing innovation that required radically rethinking the way cars are designed and made. It caught a lot of flak because it wasn't perfect—but then, a lot of very expensive cars weren't, either—and the proposed US version, which I haven't heard anything about in around two years, would cost more like $8000, but it's still a huge milestone, and I hope it will make more people stand up and take a look at how we can use innovation to make the goods that we here in the Western world take for granted available to nearly everyone.

And then maybe there won't be billions living in poverty. Maybe we really can lift all boats.

But that's not going to happen if we continue to think in 19th- and 20th-Century Industrial-Age terms. Conventional thinking, which can provide stability when things are going well, is just holding us back now. Not that I'm in favor of any old innovation that comes along. That just gives us junk like Rebecca Sitton Spelling and any number of bizarre educational ideas that have crept into the schools lately. Any new idea needs to be carefully scrutinized and tested on a modest scale before being widely adopted.

But that doesn't mean that everything that's old is good, either. My schooling, at least the elementary level, was far better than any of my kids have received. But I've heard educational ideas, tested out in the real world, that have the potential to far surpass anything that was happening in the 1960s and 70s.

But like the young engineers that designed the Tata Nano, we have to stop thinking that all the answers have already been provided. We have to start from the proposition that good ideas can come from anywhere, even from disciplines that seem to have nothing to do with the problem at hand. With the distributed intelligence born of the Internet, there is more access to these ideas than ever before in history.

We just have to develop the mindset to accept new ideas, and the mental filters to choose the ideas that can actually work.

And the balls to try them even if they might not work. And, in another expression from R.A. Mashelkar, the process must include innovation, passion, and compassion. Without the last, the benefits of the innovation will flow toward the top earners in the world.

Which, odd as it may sound as we struggle with our daily finances, includes people like you and me.