I don’t want to brag, but I have a lot of bright ideas. For instance, standing on a checkout line at my grocery store the other day, I thought of a great marketing gimmick: tell people that whatever they can eat before reaching the cashier will be free. Think of the publicity, not to mention the incentive for cashiers to work faster. It’s a win for the customer, a win for the cashier (quickest one gets a bonus), and a win for the store owner, because people will flock to the store like a gaggle of geese. They might even buy geese.
Another bright idea concerns retail outlets, which lose more merchandise to employee theft than actual shoplifting. So, my idea is for stores like Macy’s to switch customers with employees. Imagine queuing up to pay for your favorite pair of shredded jeans when all of a sudden someone taps you on the shoulder and, voilà, you’re a Macy’s employee with a nametag. Think of the money that could be saved nationwide.
I know what you’re thinking. How long has he been working on these ideas and can I get in on the ground floor? I smell inventive genius. Well, I can tell you that I have been working on them for years. Some of the brightest ones include “Pet Mat,” “SnoFlo,” and “Fling Thing” (see Nine Lives).
Pet Mat is a rubber pad made of suction cups to keep the feeding bowl of your favorite pet in place so they don’t spill water all over the kitchen floor. I came up with it after being woken every night by a pet slurping its water. I developed SnoFlo after using a plastic patio chair to clear snow off the front walkway. It’s what you do after a snowstorm when you discover you haven’t got a shovel. It works like a plow. Fling Thing is a plastic arm for throwing tennis balls to your dog. I have neither dog nor tennis balls, but I imagine people who have both getting slobbered regularly. Several inferior versions already exist at pet stores.
I also had an idea for self-regenerating car paint so that a chipped, dinged, or scratched car could “heal” itself overnight. I thought it was ingenious. The only problem was I don’t have a doctorate in polymer chemistry and had no idea where to begin. My organic chemistry textbook from college proved little help. Too bad. I had developed a marketing campaign for the revolutionary product, which I called “Mermer.” You know, because it worked its magic quietly.
I admit that details may be the greatest obstacle to bright ideas. Still, I don’t let that stop me. It didn’t stop Steve Jobs. He found his own polymer chemists (actually, computer and design engineers) to work out the details. Then he slapped on cute names (iPhone, iPad, iTunes, etc. ) and hiked prices to exorbitant levels to convince consumers they were sitting at the cool table in the cafeteria. Nice work if you can get it.
This raises the larger philosophical issue of execution, which has come up before in a post on dad jokes. Bright ideas, as the saying goes, are a dime a dozen. They’re cheap even after adjusting for inflation. What matters is whether or not you (or the people you hire) execute them. But it’s even more basic than that, for at the heart of execution lies failure. How you admit it. How you respond to it. How you explain it to yourself and others. As I like to remind students, cheer up, everyone fails at some point in their lives. You might as well get it over with now.
We need to become creatures of failure. That’s the only way to achieve salvation in a universe of the improbable. And it is improbable, from the seemingly spontaneous explosion of life on earth on the macro level to my utterly improbable existence on the micro. Given the near misses, near-death experiences, and daily acts of stupidity (commission and omission), it is a miracle that I am alive.
I have gorged myself at the trough of failure and waddled away to brag about it. However, consider this not bragging as much as testimony. Testimony to what? you ask. To the recognition of two things. First, that someone is looking out for me just as they are looking out for you. Second, that mix of audacity, hope, and ignorance that allows me to keep rolling the dice. As a friend of mine says, see you in the funny papers.