WHERE DOES INSPIRATION COME FROM ?

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

Chemist Dr. Linus Pauling (1901-1994)

via Wikimedia Commons


Thomas Edison has always been widely known as one of the great innovators with nearly 1100 US and global patents to his name, but he actually sits in 4th position after Australian Kia Siverbrook (4360), Japanese Shunpei Yamazaki (2744) and another Aussie Paul Lapstun (1154). I understand that this identifies prolific inventors rather than necessarily inventors of significantly important items, but it is still an important indicator of great thinking skills.

It has made me wonder why some people can be such creative and innovative thinkers whilst others can go through life without one single original thought ever coming into their heads.

The reality is that for many senior business people, never having an original idea can be quite a serious advantage to their careers, as promotions in many companies go more often to those who can show that they are able to protect the status quo, rather than to those who threaten their colleagues with anything as dramatic as creative thought and change.

via Wikimedia Commons


I have come to understand that inspiration, let’s call it “great ideas”, must come via a number of other possible avenues beyond just experience, education and high intelligence.

1. Becoming obsessed with something

Success can more often than not be a direct result of a serious, driven obsession. Edwin C. Barnes was obsessed with becoming a business partner to Thomas Edison, and travelled by freight train to Edison’s offices starting work as a general “dogsbody” doing things that no-one else wanted to do. But Barnes’ relentless obsession drove him to prove his worth by taking on the selling the “Ediphone” dictating machine that no-one else had ever been able to sell. Edison was so impressed that he made Barnes his business partner. Mission accomplished.

2. Problem solving mindset

Some people can identify an obstacle and see only the obstacle, while others have an ability to see an obstacle and immediately start devising solutions to overcome it. The skill to be able to see a way to overcome a problem is a great starting point for innovation, and despite the plethora of creative thinking programmes, such as making people pass their colleagues through a rope maze, is still a rare commodity.

3. Ability to improve on what already exists

I have always been impressed with James Dyson, best known for his invention of the dual cyclone bag-less vacuum cleaner, which has helped him build an estimated net worth of over $ 1.5 B. He took a concept that had been around for about 100 years and changed it for the better, in the same way that he has done with the contrarotator washing machine, ballbarrow and his latest, the airblade, which unlike previous hot air hand dryers does not necessitate finally wiping one’s hands on one’s tie to actually achieve dry hands.

Author: Nobuyuki Hayashi; via Wikimedia Commons


4. Having great intuition

It’s hard to be able to quantify how much actual “gut feel” or intuition plays in the generation of creative thought but I have little doubt that we are becoming less intuitive as we start to rely more and more on electronic gadgetry and the push towards logical thinking as a critical skill. However I feel that intuition can play a significant role in having some people push on in a specific direction, believing that they are right, when everyone around them tells them that it can’t be done.

5. Ability to focus without being distracted

Some people have a wonderful ability to stay focussed on what they are doing no matter what is happening around them. When it comes to admiring this ability to focus, I always think of Johnny Wilkinson lining up a penalty kick or a conversion in that unusual “praying on the toilet” stance, in front of 80,000 screaming spectators at Twickenham. I have no idea what he uses to disregard everything around him and to stay focussed on just the task at hand, but I believe that it is that same level of concentration that can be the right environment for great thoughts to be able to flourish.

6. A great team

I strongly believe that working in a high performance, exciting team of creative, questioning people, under skilled leadership is exactly the breeding ground for innovation and the generation of great ideas. I am not a big fan of brainstorming sessions (See “Innovation and Brainstorming” posted May 16, 2011), but I do believe that the passion and energy that can be generated by a great team is a potential innovation powerhouse.

7. Having some successes

Success breeds success, and the more successes that can be had will help to spur any group to achieve more. Xerox PARC was just such a place in the 1970s and they developed significant breakthrough technologies such as laser printing, Ethernet, personal computing and the graphical user interface (GUI) just to name a few. Knowing that you can do it is a wonderful springboard for doing it again and again. However, it doesn’t hurt to have some failures as well along the way as, if correctly handled, we can learn a lot from a few screw-ups. James Yorke (renowned mathematician) had it right when he said “The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B”.

8. Doing something you love

Being able to do something that you are really passionate about is the best starting point for any endeavour. Sometimes having tunnel vision and getting too close can get in the way of creative thought, but it is rare to see people who have been successful in some area of activity that they actually hate.

As was so well said by Harvey Firestone (1868-1938), founder of Firestone Tyre Company,

“Capital isn’t so important in business. Experience isn’t so important. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life.”

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HOW OLD ARE YOU REALLY ?

Henry Ford said

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. “

I am quite often surprised when I meet some young people straight out of University who are only in their mid-twenties but who seem to have an apparent age of about 60. They are already focussed on their retirement, counting down the number of years that they will have to work beforehand and calculating their retirement benefits based on comparisons of inflation and a non-aggressive work plan versus what they would get if they worked hard and had serious promotions and salary increases along the way.

They can often also seem limited in their outlook on other elements of life … their music is very bounded around what is “in” right now so classical music is for oldies, jazz is for no-one and opera is a joke. Their life contacts are very much focussed and limited to social media rather than personal contacts and they measure their popularity and social interactions on how many “friends” these provide.

In all, their lives seem extremely bounded, heavily constrained and very limited with closed horizons.

I contrast this with many people that I meet in their 60/70s and beyond who have no intention of ever retiring, are open to new things and are still full of adventure and the wonders of life around them.

I understand that I am sounding like a grumpy old man complaining about modern youth being soft and not able to “live in a paper bag in middle of road”, but it has made me wonder about how one should define age beyond just chronological age, and have decided that there are a number of criteria to use on deciding whether it is 60 or 25 which is the new 40, and determining “True Age”.

1. Health Age

Modern medicine and greater understanding of heath and exercise needs today mean that people in their later years are significantly fitter and are significantly more aware of the need to stay holistically healthy. Whilst retirement for my parents’ generation meant a more sedentary life, today most of my older friends are extremely physically active. They still do things like go hiking, go to the gym, watch what they eat (mostly without being obsessive) and still ski. We know one couple who in their 60s saw him walking to the south-pole while she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter. I understand that they are an exceptional couple by any standards but our ability to stay active and keep our bodies mobile is a serious element in determining our true age.

via Wikimedia Commons


2. Financial Age

One doesn’t have to be rich, but having enough money available to do the things that we want to do, and to live life well in our later years, plays a significant part in the aging process. It is not just a question of being able to hop on a plane and jet off to new experiences, but it is also the psychological impact of removing the stresses that financial issues can have on one’s wellbeing. Money may not buy happiness (though it does seem to buy a better quality of misery), but it can play a significant role in determining what we are able to do in our retirement and hence strongly impacts our true age.

Author: Stevy76; via Wikimedia Commons


3. Emotional Age

I have long believed that most of us have an emotional age that we are most comfortable with, when life was so perfect that we hang on to its essence. I am not suggesting that we should continually hark back to it, but it is an age that we guard because of its meaning in our lives. No matter how much I age, I believe that I am still 36 years old, as 1981 was a year where so many parts of my life came together to create the chemical reaction that has made me the person that I am today. I had just gotten married and found my true partner who would not only share my future life but who would play a major role in shaping it, I was at my physically fittest, my career was on an upward trajectory having just been promoted to a regional role in DEC, which necessitated our move to Australia from NZ and which started our ex-pat existence and love of different countries and cultures. Recognising this emotional age is an important element in understanding our true age.

Author: Toddatkins, via Wikimedia Commons


4. Friendship Age

Our circle of friends and acquaintances has a significant impact on our true age. Rather than closing membership on one’s club of friends, a large and growing circle of friends and family that are active and include you in their activities is a critical element in controlling the aging process. I feel that the circle also needs to be diverse and mixed and not just composed of people your own age, being one of the reasons that I really dislike retirement homes, where people are generally forced to mix with people their own age and infirmities. One of the reasons that I love teaching and working with start-up companies is that it forces me to work with people half my age who have not yet become life cynics and who still see more opportunities than barriers in business ideas and life in general. It is also why, whilst I do love Facebook, I am nervous when it becomes the main mode of connecting to people.

Author: Pictofigo, via Wikimedia Commons


5. Challenge Age

It is critical that we never stop learning. How ready we are in taking on and facing new challenges and new ideas has a majorimpact on our true age. Too many older people start to narrow their lives and their attitudes as part of making their lives simpler as they get older. It is significantly healthier to keep taking calculated risks as one gets older, opening oneself up to new ideas, new people and new activities (See “Do something every year that scares you” posted July 13, 2010). It is a wonderful time to spread one’s wings as generally we are unencumbered with the all-encompassing blanket of full-time work enabling us to take control of our own calendars, which for many is a luxury that we have not had for decades.

As Mark Twain said

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.“

VIVE LE SYSTEME DE JUSTICE

Over 2000 years ago Plato said

“Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of its citizens.”

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I have long believed in the ideal of Justice as represented by Justitia the Roman Goddess of Justice, frequently shown globally at courthouses and courtrooms. She is most often depicted as holding a set of scales in one hand representing a case’s support and opposition, blindfolded to show impartiality, and carrying a double edged sword symbolizing the power of Reason and Justice which can be wielded either for or against any party.

via Wikimedia Commons


The ideal is that every person irrespective of colour, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, handicap or nationality will be treated equally under the law.
I have lived as an expat resident for over 30 years since leaving New Zealand in 1981, and recently have had some instances that have made me wonder whether the ideal, whilst it may be enshrined in a country’s laws, is ever achievable based on the way that this is interpreted and implemented by the general populace, including the public officials who are actually tasked with the upholding of the tenets of Justice.

Whilst I cannot speak for all countries, I have had come across some situations recently in my own life in France that have brought me to the conclusion that at times, Lady Justice does let the blindfold slip somewhat to have a look at who are the antagonists, and then exhibits some bias.

Situation 1.

Some weeks ago I was returning from the local building supplies centre in our Boxer van with a load of sand and cement when, on a narrow country lane, I happened to barely touch side mirrors with another large van travelling in the opposite direction. I had no damage at all, but the side mirror on the other van was broken. When the other driver realised that I was a foreigner, he refused to sign the accident report unless I would state that it had been my fault. As I had been well within my side of the road I refused to do so, at which point he insisted on calling the local Gendarmerie. When the French constable saw that my French license (which I have had for about 10 years) had been exchanged from an Australian one, he took the side of the French driver, pointing out to me that he was aware that Australians drive on the left side of the road. He then gave me a lecture on the fact that in France we drive on the right side of the road, despite the fact that I have lived and driven in France for a decade, had a clean driving record, and despite the fact that the glass from the other van’s mirror was actually on my side of the road. The gendarme then endorsed the accident report stating that the accident had been caused by a foreign driver.

By Corvettec6r (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Situation 2.

I bought a property in France and the agent for the seller was an Insurance Broker. After taking possession I received a visit from an employee of a large French Insurance company who announced that he had come to inspect the property for insurance purposes, based on the fact that the insurance broker had organised insurance on my behalf acting as my agent. I advised that I did not know him personally, that he was not my agent in any way and that I already had insurance cover organised through my normal broker. A few days later I received an invoice from the French insurance company, to which I responded with a letter advising the fact that I was well insured and had no relationship in any way with them or with the Insurance broker who had arranged the insurance (and been paid his commission). After a number of threatening letters from the Insurance Company, I sought legal advice and was told that I should give up, pay the invoice and send a letter by registered mail cancelling the policy after this one annual payment, otherwise the invoices would keep coming, initiated annually by the Broker, who had somehow become my agent in this unsought for relationship. The reasoning was that though I was totally in the right, and despite the fact that the broker had no document to show that he had the authority to act on my behalf, a foreigner could rarely win an action against a large French company and that the legal costs in trying to do so would be considerably more than the invoice.

Situation 3.

I renovated our second floor apartment in Megeve in the French Alps using an English company owned by a friend. At the same time as we were doing the renovations a blockage occurred in the plumbing of the apartment below us resulting in some flooding and water damage in the restaurant below on the ground floor. Even though no-one could show that we had had anything to do with it, and the fact that our water had been turned off during the renovations, the Body Corporate hit us with the bill for the damage to the restaurant. Their reasoning was that we were renovating at the time, and that we had used an English, rather than a French, company for renovations and despite thisbeing totally legal under EU law, an English company would know nothing about French plumbing. The fact that the apartment below us was extremely run down and badly maintained and had been rented out for years was not taken into consideration at all when trying to allocate the blame for the blockage.
I do not mean to just pick on France as the negative example as I am sure that foreign residents struggle with the same issues wherever they live, and I am sure that this was never the intent of the French justice system, but any justice system is only as good as those that administer it, and as long as the average French person resents the presence of foreigners in their country, particularly Anglophones, justice will always be administered as being different for citizens than for residents.

It is not surprising for me to see the growing popularity in France of Marine Le Pen and the French Nationalist Front Party, which is the far right challenger for the French presidency and which is anti-foreigner, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti- everything but that which is totally French, whatever that may mean.

I find it sad that in my adopted country, that I have grown to love in so many ways and at so many levels, so many people have this attitude to foreigners, as I believe that the mingling of cultures is what gives a country its richness in every way … sadly it is one of the things which, together with the taxation system, may ultimately make me decommit to France.

I RESOLVE TO STOP MAKING NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

I have realised that a New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other, so I have resolved to stop making them once and for all.

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I used to resolve every year that I would lose some weight so that rather than being a bit overweight I would just lose enough to be of average weight, but as the world population has gotten fatter and fatter over the last decade or so, it has all caught up with me so that I am now considered to be only of average weight. That’s one resolution I don’t have to worry about any more thanks to McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

My resolutions to learn another language have also gone by the wayside having spent the last 10 years trying to learn French as a resident, and having only become increasingly confused the more that I try to speak it, my only achievement being the ability to recognise the different parts of a pig when I see them on a French menu. (See “Vive le French language” posted September 19, 2011). I have now gotten to the stage that I realise that as my French language skills improve my English language skills are deteriorating, making me understand that I have a limited amount of language memory storage in my brain, having limited its total capacity to ensure that I do not forget the names of my wife, daughters and grand-daughters and the physical location of my house, rather than being able to conjugate some French verbs correctly.

I have also given up on deciding that I need to be nicer and gentler to those around me as I creep inexorably and more readily into the “grumpy old man” category, complaining about modern youth, modern music, the state of the world, the uselessness of politicians, the French attitude to work, and the rest of the world’s attitude to the French. I have decided that the dictionary definition of grumpy as being “discontentedly or sullenly irritable” is an acceptable state and don’t understand anymore why I considered this to be negative when I was younger. I understand now that if the “shoo-off” fits, then one should wear it. Anyway as I become more French over time, I have adopted the French attitude that anyone who smiles for no reason at all is either up to something or is someone of feeble mind, so have given up smiling in an attempt to look more like a local.

Author: viZZZual.com; via Wikimedia Commons


Becoming a world class equestrian show jumper (see “Do something every year that scares you” posted July 13, 2010) has also gone by the wayside having tried to control one of these magnificent but uncontrollable creatures, and having spent some time on Victoria’s horse Patrick (over 18 hands high) and realising that it is an incredibly long way to the ground. Beyond that he wasn’t really very interested in having my 100 kilos bearing down upon his back and let me know it by trying to bite me on the leg. I didn’t even know that horses could bend their necks back quite so far. I have therefore decided to move more into the feeding and cleaning-up role rather than becoming the French jousting champion at our village medieval festival.

Facebook has taken away my old and frequent resolutions to make more effort to stay in touch with friends and family. I post regularly and if they want to know what I am up to all they have to do is log on and find out. Is it my fault if they can’t be bothered doing this to find out the state of my sauce and chutney making endeavours? I have delivered on my half of the relationship and hold them responsible for their side. I do this specifically in an attempt to think young, as the majority of young people seem to have given up on one to one communication in favour of one to many, as now have I.

I have not been a smoker since January 3, 1983 (amazing how ex-smokers can remember the date that they quit) so I don’t have to resolve to give up that particular bad habit. All the other so called bad habits that I have developed over my lifetime are so embedded in my persona that I now consider them to be “quirks” rather than things negative, and hence part of my charming and endearing personality, so it would detract from my attractiveness if I was to drive them out of my soul. I even have managed to keep my wine intake down to the medically recommended 3 glasses per day by buying some extremely large wine glasses. Since I found some that can hold a whole litre I have actually cut back to just a single glass with lunch and with dinner, leaving a whole glass still available in reserve if needed.

Author: Sissi Lin; via Wikimedia Commons


The resolve to become physically fitter has also gone away since I realised that elderly men only do this to try and appear attractive to young women in their 20s and 30s, which is an impossible task anyway. The only exercise equipment that an elderly man can use to attract a young woman is an ATM, and unless men in their dotage are prepared, just as a starter, to have their nose and ear hairs trimmed professionally on a daily basis they are so far behind the starting line that they would be just as successful in the youth attractiveness stakes by having these hairs platted with red ribbons. I believe that fitness at my age involves the ability to walk up a flight of stairs without having to have a cup of tea and a nap half way, and being able to get out of the bathtub without the use of an industrial hoist.

So … no more new year’s resolutions for me.

As was said by Mark Twain

“New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions.”