Where Are The ‘bleeding edge’ Thinkers?
I’m just chewing here. I’m in the mood for a rant, and it’s a balmy 25 degrees-plus on my patio in Spain, so I have returned to the cool of my office PC…
By a sheer accident I was a teenager in Aldershot (UK) in 1958. This just so happened to coincide with the explosion of rock and roll that became the beat/pop boom of the early sixties…I was a young spotty nerd that fell in love with the guitar.
My dad had an excellent collection of 78 rpm records, mostly piano and band music, but several records by Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders. He also had the Theme From The Third Man by Anton Karas on a guitar-sounding zither. At the tender age of ten, these were the first tunes I had ever heard where the GUITAR was the main instrument.
I was In Love.
I got my first guitar at 15 years old and practiced ’till my fingers bled…Nothing special so far.
Within 3 years of playing, I had my dream guitar, and it has never been bettered – A USA designed and built Fender Stratocaster – launched around the mid 1950’s…Leo Fender was an inventor and creator from Santa Ana California, no one in the rest of the world could come close to designing and building such an innovative product (2014 update….still can’t!)
You can see me at 18 years old playing my 1963 salmon pink Stratocaster in the picture opposite – made just 7 years after Leo first started production. Although only costing me £60 UKP (a fortune to me back then), it would probably fetch around £5000 today…Ah! nostalgia ain’t what it used to be….
Also back then, the USA had ALL the creative talent and a thriving music industry, while us post-war Brits could do nothing more than copy their creative originality…
“Before Elvis, there was nothing.” – John Lennon
I was not only a participant (which put me in the rare 1 percent), but an observer of this post-war evolution. Here’s my point.
Those individuals that become icons and millionaires were those that contributed to the CREATION of either tunes, beats, or styles/methods.
It is no accident that folks like John Lennon etc, wrote tunes and lyrics on the back of table napkins…their brains were wired that way. The list goes on, Knopfler, Dylan, etc. Seems to me, that there are practitioners of music (me), and then there is the upper echelon – the creators of music.
Such creators couldn’t help themselves, they were compelled to create…
Sometimes the creators don’t do the best version, yet others refine it, sometimes the reverse.
This seems to be true for any industry or profession, including my own, electronic engineering.
Many times average guys and gals reflect back on what ‘could have been’, but most times it is because they were not compelled to write stuff on a napkin, work through the night, or do 50 takes of a song until they heard the sound in their heads.
Translate that point also to any industry or profession.
I’m currently reading David Ogilvy, one of the finest copywriters and marketers that you will never have heard of. The words, visions and application of his craft explode with passion from within his book.
He was an American Citizen and by his name was probably either born in Scotland or had Scottish ancestry. Like many other entrepreneurs, he, along with Claude Hopkins virtually invented direct marketing.
Here was a great creator…
There are many chefs but only one Keith Floyd.
You can watch Keith’s old TV programs and imagine that you could note the ingredients and the instructions…and maybe even cook a passing resemblance to his dish.
But you could never find the energy and passion that took him to create and produce such dishes and programs that were shown and loved world-wide. He was a driven man.
Therein lies the difference. And taking a positive note, this is the extra mile that true entrepreneurs naturally energize themselves to do….
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On this laid back Saturday afternoon, I understand perfectly why I was not a rich and successful ‘rock star’ but instead just have a fabulous set of my local musician and friends reminisces of great times…(I didn’t look that sexy either!)
Thank Goodness for the difference that ‘great’ has forged, verses the more commonly found ‘good’.
Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh, and Hank Marvin, just to mention three, have enriched my life in ways that traditional musical education and experience could never do…Anyone, just like me could play their tunes, but we mortals could have never had the talent and vision to create them in the first place.
In my twilight years, I relish replacing time restrictions with my life passions, and return to what I am naturally good at, even if it flies in the face of what traditional ‘granddads’ should be doing…
About one year ago, I had several ideas for a revolutionary music synthesizer. I had all the schematics down apart from a small but key piece of discrete component logic circuitry. Long story cut short, I put that part up on eLance as a project since it had been some 40 years since I last designed digital logic circuits.
The responses I got spoke volumes about how modern engineers are educated these days. Almost without exception the design approaches utilized a standard microprocessor chip programmed with machine code.
This, despite the fact that I emphasized that the design should use simple cheap, discrete logic components.
Oh, yes, and most projects (obviously from USA citizens), wanted around $600 plus 30 days or more to come up with the design.
So one Saturday morning, I bit the bullet and dug out my old logic text-books, did a bit of searching on Google, and within three hours had the design down cold. I estimate it used about $20 of components, some analog, some digital.
It was telling that the most creative project solutions for my request came from countries such as China and India.
Back in the day, it was said that ‘a degree qualification teaches you HOW to think’.
Hmm, it seems that my project request highlights the way electronic engineering is taught these days – particularly in the USA. It’s all about stuffing knowledge and passing exams. And the UK does that too….
So where were the budding John Lennon’s of electronic engineering when I needed them? Where were the sparks of original thinking and application. As rare as hen’s teeth.
Here’s my final thought.
Knowledge does NOT equal Power.
Knowledge Plus Application Equals Power.
It’s no accident that you can’t patent an idea – only the application of that idea…
If the USA (in particular) wants to regain the excellence high ground, it needs all training and educational services to include how to apply that knowledge – whatever industry such artisans ultimately choose.
Students must learn how to innovate, sometimes fail a little, take risks, but whatever they do, push against the bleeding edge of our knowledge.
Oh yeah, and keep religious creationists out of science. Such buffoons bamboozle their brains with unproven circular thinking. Innovators need application – not faith.
I look at some of the magnificent exceptions to my observations, such as the NASA space program, Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, and what the USA has brought to The Free World.
If the USA education system doesn’t stop learning by rote, then my favorite country bar none, will not generate sufficient wealth to fund it’s imagination and future growth, and will ultimately whither into just a backwater set of States.
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