Once upon a time many years ago, I worked at our local television station here in Victoria, CHEK TV. I worked in the traffic department and occasionally I would fill in at the reception desk, direct people as they came into the station and answer the phone, as receptionists do.
Now a TV station tends to be a bit of a magnet for, shall we say, borderline lunatics. Everybody’s got a beef or an idea. Beefs could be anything from an annoyed person complaining that their neighbour had knocked down a tree, to more serious complaints about local politicians or organizations. The people with beefs would be directed to or given a contact number for the news department. Other members of the public had ideas for television shows. Most of them were under the impression that you could just walk in and introduce your idea and BANG! The station would spend thousand of dollars to produce your amazing show. The people with ideas would be directed to someone in the production department.
And then there were those who you just couldn’t place. For instance, one day when I was filling in at reception, a rather scraggly fellow with a bit of a scary look in his eyes came in and wanted, or should I say demanded, to talk to someone in the news department. You see, he had a brilliant idea. He had it written down and everything and he handed me a dirty, crumpled piece of paper that described it to a tee. His idea was inspired by the fact that we needed to grow more food and feed more people in the poorest countries of the world. It was easily solved, he said, if we took everyone’s poop and shipped it to the Arabian desert where it could be cultivated into the sand to make the desert into arable land.
That was his idea. He was pretty excited about it, and while I quietly wondered whether I should call the cops, he stood with his crumpled diagram and explained it all to me quite thoroughly. I finally realized the only way I was going to please him was if I took his diagram and told him that I would immediately pass it on to the news department. That seemed to satisfy him.
I can’t remember what I did with the paper. I think I showed it to a couple of people and maybe I did, in fact, pass it on to the news department. But I’ll never forget it.
Lately I find myself enjoying the Canadian version of “The Dragon’s Den“, a show where inventors and small business dynamos present their ideas to a panel of investors in the hopes of getting a little financial help to bring their ideas or inventions to the next level. Of course, some of the inventions are bizarre, but many of them are very clever.
Since the devastating oil spill in the Gulf, literally thousands of people have come forward with lots of ideas as to how to clean up the 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil that continues to spew out from the pipe every day. Just go to YouTube and you’ll find lots of videos posted by companies who have ideas or products that they think can help. Here’s an example:
From what I understand, there have been thousands of potential solutions presented to BP, most of which have been at least considered. Out of those thousands, a couple of hundred have been deemed viable, including Kevin Costner‘s “dream machines” or V20s, which are said to be capable of separating 210,000 gallons of oily water a day. Costner has signed a contract with BP for 32 of the units. But before the spill, he had been trying to employ the technology for 17 years, spending $20 million of his own money, only to be pretty much mired in red tape.
And why is this? It seems like a brilliant idea, along with the one in the YouTube video above. But we don’t care about these kinds of inventions or technologies until we are in desperate need of them. Forward-thinking people are not respected the way they used to be back when Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity. Or maybe they weren’t respected then either, and it’s only in hindsight that we adorn inventive people with any admiration. Or maybe it’s more about the technology itself.
When it comes to cell phones and software programs or anything computer-related, we have hundreds of companies chomping at the bit to come up with something new that the public will eagerly line up around the block to buy. These companies spend millions and even billions of dollars on the next big thing. It’s too bad that they aren’t as anxious to put their money into inventions and ideas that could actually save lives.
Right now, we need the right “idea” people more than ever. Not just to tackle this oil spill, but to find alternatives to oil dependency in the first place, and to solve so many other problems we have on this planet. Governments need to put money into programs and schools to encourage younger people to become inventors, and come up with some great ideas to solve all kinds of problems. And big companies have to SMARTEN UP and realize there is a lot more good they could do with all that money.
We have to pay more attention to little guys who have big ideas. Come to think of it, maybe that strange fellow who wandered into CHEK years ago to show me his idea for creating arable land wasn’t so crazy after all.