In every vocational situation you find yourself in, you try your best, if you have any integrity. You try to accomplish good things. Sometimes, though, the doubters win and you find that you cannot assemble enough belief, faith, support, resources and the wherewithal to accomplish the vision. Plans for breakthroughs come to nothing, other than some slide-ware and preliminary plans or sketches. The massive contribution you were prepared to make never gets made.
There is nothing unusual in this, unless you happen to be somebody that is skilled in seeing future possibilities and how to realise them. This is not voodoo; it’s methodical. The way to conceive of breakthrough projects is to be good at noticing what people really need and understanding how available technologies could be bent into a shape that fulfils those needs. You need imagination and a lot of practical, technical understanding. It’s not enough to understand your tools and your media; you have to be able to see, in your mind’s eye, how to shape the media into something that doesn’t yet exist but could, with the tools you have. Sculptors say that you remove all of the stone that isn’t the sculpture. The same technique works with software, with electronics, with wood, with all sorts of materials.
Underneath the vision is a workable concept. Just about everything we make is actually mostly a concept, which you then realise with materials and skills. The idea of it is what comes first, though. The book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” discussed this notion at length. A motorcycle isn’t a thing, as much as it’s the culmination of a lot of thinking, ideas, concepts and imaginative connections, fixed in metal, rubber and other materials. The idea is the essence of the thing, whether or not it is yet made.
Those people who say that ideas, on their own, have no value are in pure denial. The same idea exists, whether in your imagination, or fixed in tangible materials. So, how can the idea be worthless when just an idea, but valuable when you can get your hands on it? It’s the same idea, but in different form. Surely the materials, alone, are not valuable. They’d just be raw materials, without the technology.
Humanity, perversely, tends to value ideas they didn’t think of themselves as worthless. Other people’s ideas are worthless, whereas my ideas are valuable. That’s the thinking. The proof of the value of the idea is in the physical object, but that’s the last stage in the process. Without the initial imaginative conception, the making is purposeless and the product useless. The idea behind the thing is what holds it all together and makes it surprise and delight us. Ergo, the idea must be intrinsically valuable, irrespective of our ability to see or measure that value.
Some people start by attacking their materials with their tools, without an imaginative plan in their heads and the concept gradually takes shape. I would say that is the mainstay method of incremental innovators. However, the more powerful (and somewhat disruptive) method is to take those same tools and materials and set about doing something with them that has never been done before, based on the concept that initially exists nowhere else but in your imagination. That sort of consistently directed innovation, guided by a strongly imagined concept, produces astounding, breakthrough things that fit needs perfectly and surprisingly well, as if created by intelligent design (because they were).
I look back over my working life and see that I have served many different markets: content creators, musicians, composers, video editors, artists, retailers, motivators, monitors. In every case, I envisaged breakthrough concepts, which have not yet been realised, to this very day, but which could take each market to a new level. These ideas remain relevant, but I’ve moved on. I couldn’t make the contribution because there was too much resistance to overcome. I couldn’t keep hurting myself, physically and psychologically, to keep up the fight against overwhelming scepticism, rooted in nothing more than an inability to imagine what I could imagine.
Some may say that the right outcome occurred. I had no proof that the ideas in my head would result in better things for all. That may or may not be so, because in the absence of a real example of the thing I imagined, the proposition remains unverifiable. However, there were classes of things I imagined which, much later, were made by other people and those things did succeed. Those instances at least validate my ability to do what I say. These concepts, which I first thought of, but which were subsequently also dreamt up and realised by others, were sound. They would have worked. We could have been the first to create them. There was a real need for them and people were glad, once they were available. The people around me, preventing me from realising them, really did miss a valuable opportunity.
I still have a long list of unmade contributions, many of which are listed on my personal web site. They include a way to edit augmented reality, a better way to mix and record music, a distributed data centre that works faster and better for all, a permission and relationships based way of rewarding people for doing good things, a means to manage an independent music career without a record company, a way for artists to improve their draftsmanship and colour conceptualisation, and so on and so on. Most of them, to this day, provide something better, which is not yet available. But not enough people wanted them. Not enough people were even interested enough to allow me to share what was in my imagination. Egos get in the way. The powerful need to assert their position in the false meritocracy and so cannot admit that somebody else’s imagination could be holding something within it that they, themselves, could never conceive of. It’s more important to scent mark the boundaries of their imaginary territory in their hierarchy, than it is to explore a fertile imagination in a shared way. So be it.
Some of those unmade contributions, perhaps most of them, will never be made. Those imaginative ideas will never be made tangible or real. I’m not going to kill myself trying to convince people, gatekeepers, to let me realise them. Frankly, I’ve done enough of that and the stress and wear and tear on your body and soul is not sustainable. It takes too much out of you. I’d rather be creating than convincing people to give me the permission and resources to create those larger, grander visions, with more applicability, to bigger problems and which would matter to larger populations of eventual beneficiaries. I’m not prepared to be abused in that way.
So I will continue to create in the ways I can, with the resources I can apply to those projects myself, without any external permission, investment or assistance. Yes, that limits the scale and scope and hence the value of the things I do create, but at least I’m not spending my time on earth in conflict, for no good reason. I’m not burning away my life trying to convince people that don’t want to be convinced. Leave them to the sub-standard realities they inhabit, I say. Better is possible, but why should anyone have to shove it down their throats, if they are determined to not embrace anything better?
Perhaps there are unmade contributions of your own that you recall with a mixture of nostalgia and slight regret. You might have started and never finished projects that could have been really good, but which never were. I find I have to let them go and reconcile myself to the fact that I did my best, at the time and as much as I could, to bring those ideas to life. Nobody should have to be a martyr to innovation, crucified and destroyed, so that the rest of humanity could have it better. I’m not the Messiah.
I’ve been very fortunate. I have had more ideas than can be accomplished in a single lifetime. I may yet have still more. When it comes to workable ideas for better futures, I bat above the average and I’m grateful to inhabit a mind that works that way. It gives me joy to imagine those future scenarios, even if I feel frustration at not bringing them to fruition. It’s not my problem, though. I’m not the diehard-sceptic whisperer.