A Story of Two Problems
Ready, aim, fire. It was a glorious day when I killed the perfect idea. So let me tell you all about it.
While I was a university student in Ecuador, my engineering class was participating in an industrial fair. Members of the class had the chance to present ideas to the entire class for consideration in entering the fair. We all had the chance to judge the ideas, along with a chemistry professor.
A buddy of mine stood up and proposed packaging tuna fish in a bag for marketing.
I immediately saw in my mind the clear plastic bags that folks in Ecuador purchased soda in and thought, "How stupid."
“You’re crazy,” I said. “Who’s going to want to buy tuna fish in a bag?” I took dead aim on that puppy and shot it out of the sky. I don’t remember everything I said to him, but I spent a lot of time teasing him and putting the idea down, and many of our classmates joined in. In fact, for the next couple of years, his nickname was Tuna Bag.
Fortunately, we’re still friends today in spite of all that.
A Lack of Vision Is Dangerous, Even Deadly
Two or three years later, I was walking through a store there in Ecuador, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but tuna fish being sold in a Tetra Pak bag. Who knew?
Well, apparently someone besides me did.
These days you can walk through your local supermarket and see StarKist tuna being sold in bags, complete with company logo, ingredients, nutritional information, the whole nine yards.
Obviously someone didn’t think the idea of selling tuna in a bag was crazy. Quite the contrary. Someone thought enough of it to convince two major companies of its benefits – one manufacturing company and the other a food company. And both of them bought the idea in a big way.
If I hadn’t shot down my buddy’s idea, everyone in our class could have become millionaires. And I cost them that money. More importantly, I cost them the opportunity to follow an idea from its inception to seeing it come to full fruition, which is an even better feeling.
I lacked the vision to see what he was talking about, because I was thinking of one thing. I didn’t see potential uses for something other than what I saw on the street every day. I was trapped in the box. All I could see was what was familiar, and it cost me. It cost us, dearly.
One of the hallmarks of the leader and the entrepreneur is vision, being able to think and see outside the box. We pride ourselves on being able to see things others don’t, can’t or won’t. Perhaps at that age, I was still too young and hadn’t developed my vision muscles and ability yet. Whatever the reason, I lacked the vision of my friend. I was looking at the familiar, the comfortable, and I couldn’t see something new. That kind of myopia is deadly to an entrepreneur.
If I were a banker, I would have been among the 302 bankers who turned down Walt Disney and lost out on a world-changing experience.
Go Down Fighting
But there are two sides to this story, as there are to every story.
I made a major mistake in being unable to see what my friend was seeing. I couldn’t break away from what I knew and think creatively. In that moment, I wasn’t able to see a new use for something I saw every day. Even though the class was trying to pitch new ideas, we’d forgotten the truism that most new ideas and patents are on something never known before, but a variation on something we already know.
But my friend made a couple of mistakes as well. He didn’t, or wasn’t able to, share his vision clearly enough for us to see it better.
Visionaries are always trying to get people to see things in a new light. But often they have a hard time getting their vision or point across to rest of us in the audience. Maybe it was nerves or an inability to share a vision with clarity.
But even worse, my buddy didn’t fight for his idea. And that’s crucial, even more than having a great idea. Often the greatness of an idea is less important than the passion of the man fighting for it.
Walt Disney was turned down by 302 banks before he found one that saw what he did. What would the world be like without the creations of Walt Disney?
My friend stopped when a class told him it was a bad idea. We certainly didn’t have 302 members of the class. What would the world be like if Walt had stopped after the first no from a bank, or the 10th or 20th? My friend stopped after we told him it was a dumb idea.
What would have happened if my friend had been more tenacious in trying to get us to see his vision? Or if he couldn’t get us to see it but had gone somewhere else?
This is the story of two problems: lack of vision and lack of fight. Always try to see the big picture, especially if it’s something you’ve never seen before, and always go down fighting. Fight for your dream and be unreasonable in fighting for it.
Image from Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock