Saturday, August 25, 2007

Having Original Ideas (even when other people had them first)

I'm always disturbed by people claiming that Columbus did not "discover" America, on the grounds that people were already here. (There are other grounds on which to argue with the Columbus discovery myth, like (a) where he landed and (b) that there seems no good reason to call him Columbus. (Cristóbal Colón seems more likely the guy's name.))

Discovery does not require being the first to discover something. All it requires is finding something when you weren't already certain it was there. Although, even that requirement is a little sketchy. I think you can "discover" the truth, even though you were already aware of its existence. Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent even before I've started with the topic of this post.

Today, I thought I'd mention some original thoughts I've had. They were original thoughts, because as far as I knew, nobody had previously had them. I've since discovered that I was not the first person to have them, however. Meaning that other people have had the same original thoughts before I have had them. This does not mean that my thought process is diminished by not having been the first to get there. A good idea is a good idea, no matter who has it.

A few years ago, I had the original thought of setting up wave turbines to harness the power of the oceans. Turns out that other people already had that thought and industrious people were already working on implementing it. Now, it may turn out that the idea of harnessing the power of the tides is even better than the idea of harnessing the power of the waves. (I can make no claim to having thought of using the tides instead of the waves for electricity generation.) But still, the wave turbines idea is a good idea, and I'm proud to have thought of it.

I also had the original thought a while ago that we really should implement some system of having a national referendum. We have no such system in place, and I think that's a horrible strike against our system of government. As it turns out, Mike Gravel had already had the same idea. I don't know for sure whether it was an original idea in his case, or whether he borrowed it from someone else. I think Gravel has some crackpot notions, and I won't be voting for him. However, on this issue, he has a good idea, and I'm proud to have thought of it.

A long while ago, I was working out (as a thought experiment) how one would go about setting up a local currency. I had never heard of anyone doing it, and as far as I knew, it would be utterly illegal to do within the confines of the U.S. borders. I've recently discovered that not only is it legal, but that there are places where it's been done. Certainly, I wasn't the first to think of it. But I did think of it, and I did so without suggestion from other sources. So I would argue that in my case, it was an original idea. Whether it's a good idea or not, it's certainly an interesting idea, and I'm proud to have thought of it.

Now, I'm sure that most everyone has the "why didn't I think of that?" moments. And I'm sure that lots of people have the "I could have come up with that" moments. There are also lots of us out there who have the experience of having the "hey! I already thought of that" moment(s). It's easy to get discouraged by such moments. I would argue that getting discouraged it not the appropriate response...even if someone else is getting rich off of your bright idea. Just because someone else thought of it (whether they got there first or not), that doesn't mean that you didn't think of it. It doesn't mean that it wasn't your own original idea. And it doesn't mean that you shouldn't take pride in having come up with it.

I've also had this other fantastic idea kicking around in my head for several years. I'm not sure whether anyone else has ever considered it. But I'm sure it was an original idea of my own. I'm fairly desperate to try it out. Sadly, I'm an employee rather than an employer, which takes its implementation far out of my hands. At least for now. If you're in a different position, I encourage you to try it out and see how you like it. If you try it, please let me know how it goes. The idea: Switch from the seven-day week to the twelve-day week. Switch from the five-day work week to the seven-day work week. Switch from the eight-hour work day to the ten-hour work day. Keep the years at their current 365/365/365/366-day schedule, but instead of having each new year start on a different day of the week, the new year always starts on the first day of the week.

What you end up with, instead of 52 seven-day weeks (and one or two spare days left over) is thirty twelve-day weeks with five extra days at the end of the year (or six, in the case of leap year). Those five (or six) days can be used as bonus vacation days.

Seven ten-hour work days for each of 30 twelve-day weeks works out to 2,100 business hours. That's really close to the 2,080 hours that you get from five eight-hour work days, but you get the wonderful benefit of having five-day weekends! Factor in the extra five (or six) bonus days at the end of the year, and figure that when you take a week-long vacation, you actually end up with 17 consecutive days off, and I think you'll quickly see the advantage of my system. Basically, even though your work days may be slightly longer, you get many more free days with which to live your non-working life. Where you might now feel that your measly two or three weeks of vacation per year are just not enough, a one long-week annual vacation, combined with those year-end bonus days, combined with those five-day weekends may actually feel like just enough time off, no?

Now, here's the kicker: If you switch to this system, you suddenly find that you do not need to take days off just to attend doctors' appointments or to have conferences with your children's teachers or to go renew your driver's license or to take your pets to see the veterinarian or to do any of the many other chores that can only be done during normal business hours. This is because your "normal" business hours no longer coincide with everyone else's "normal" business hours. You can get cheaper airfare or hotel rates when you decide to leave town, because you don't have to schedule your travel according to peak travel dates and times. Sure, some weeks, you'll be working from Sunday through Saturday. But on other weeks, you'll have Monday through Friday off, just in the normal course of your life. You can go to see a midweek afternoon baseball game without having to "play hooky" from work, if that's how you like to spend your time. You can visit the museum to see that touring exhibit while there are no crowds, instead of having to go during the weekend like everyone else.

Oh, to dream!

Now, back to my main point: If you have an original idea, don't be devastated if you discover that someone else already had it. And don't let anyone tell you that it wasn't an original idea. If you thought of it all by yourself, then yes, it is your own original idea. Be proud to have thought of it. Just think of how many billions of people didn't think of it!

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