Archive | February, 2011

How Big is Big?

25 Feb

Sometime in 1929 or thereabouts, a couple of men named John J. Raskob and Pierre S. du Pont had what was a truly big idea.

Of course as with any truly big idea there were formidable obstacles to over come.

For one, they would have to push technology to its limits.

For another it was the heart of the Great Depression and capital was hard to come by, even for a couple of plutocrats, which they were.

It was their vision and they were men accustomed to getting what they wanted, so nothing was going to stop them.

They didn’t mess around with boards or committees and the plans were drawn up and approved in a couple of weeks.

In January 1930 they set to work in earnest.

One year and 45 days later on May 1st 1931, the ribbon was cut.

With the help of over 3000 workers, including hundreds of Mohawks mainly from Canada who built most of the iron work, the 102 storey Empire State Building was now the world’s tallest building.

It was a truly big idea.

But it wasn’t the really big idea.

The really big idea was the mast on the top of the building.

The mast was to function as a mooring for airships, a fairly popular form of transport until the tragic inferno that engulfed the Hindenburg in 1937.

The idea was passengers would embark, or disembark, from an airship terminal just an elevator ride from Fifth Avenue and the heart of Manhattan.

It was a brilliant idea, and it didn’t work.

Records differ as to how many attempts were made in trials to moor an airship to the mast, but they all agree that the feat was never accomplished.

Ironically, one of the factors that prevented it was the updraft caused by the building itself.

So to some extent a truly big idea contributed to the failure of an even bigger idea.

Big ideas are like that, they’re risky.

They disrupt the status quo and sometimes they even kill each other.

So the next time anyone claims to have a big idea, then mentions your brand and some c-list celeb in the same breath, just say no and ask them to get dangerous.

Creativity’s Insidious

22 Feb

I met a friend after my yoga class, “That class nearly killed me” I said.

My friend said, “You should be getting pretty good by now.”

Meaning, I think, that since I’ve been doing yoga for about 10 years now, I should be better at it, or it shouldn’t hurt so much.

But Yoga isn’t like that.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it, it doesn’t get any easier.

So I tried explaining that I’m better than when I started, but not that much better.

Because Yoga’s insidious.

With most physical activities you psyche yourself up to push yourself.

Take running, you say to yourself, today I’m going to run faster, or further, or both.

You have times and distances to compare, you can track progress.

It’s the same with weights, or rowing, or cycling.

But with yoga you’re only vaguely aware of progress.

There are no accepted metrics for tracking it, so what happens occurs gradually, imperceptibly, insidiously.

And what happens is that as you gain a little flexibility, your body wants to gain a bit more, and you work harder without consciously deciding to.

So even though you’re getting fitter and more flexible the effort you make doesn’t diminish, it actually increases.

Being creative is like doing yoga.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it, it doesn’t get any easier.

And what happens is that as you develop a little creativity, your mind wants to gain a bit more, and you work harder without consciously deciding to.

And the effort you make doesn’t diminish; it actually increases, because you know that the work can always be that little bit better.

Because creativity’s insidious, just like yoga.