Jump the Track

Each Monday I post the next excerpt from my 2001 Book "Hoover’s Vision."  Here is the next section.  To read it from the start, you can begin here: hooversworld.com/archives/2938In rereading the section below, I could not help but notice that one of my "complaints"that fiction is rarely illustrated — has changed dramatically in the intervening 8 years.  Today bookstores are full of graphic and illustrated novels.  Someone got creative and it has  been a huge hit!
Every day when we get out of bed, most of us are on a track — our old habits, our usual way of thinking, our comfortable routine. We follow that track wherever it leads.
I started TravelFest hoping to change the way the world interacted with the travel business. I did not succeed, as the industry took enormous turns that I did not anticipate, including the collapse of the airline ticket commission structure. (A reminder that creating new companies from scratch is a risky business, no matter how much homework you do.) But that’s a story for another book. The story I want to tell here is how I believed that one of the nice side-effects of the success of TravelFest would be a chance for me to see the world, as I had always hoped. Just by attending the annual travel agents’ conferences, I would eventually see every continent and every part of the world. In short, I had my life mapped out in front of me and knew where it was headed.  
After TravelFest failed to achieve the goals I had set and I moved on with my life, I also slowly realized that I would not see the world the way I had hoped. My first reaction was, “Drat! Now I’ll never see the world.” Of course, this was baloney, but it was a human reaction to being put off my course. When one strategy fails, it is simply time to start thinking of another route to our goal. The bottom line is that we must always be ready to substitute a new path for the old one, always ready to change directions, to take a detour, while keeping our eye on our destination, our goal.  
Even the most creative people often get stuck in their ruts, not being truly creative in the broadest sense of the word:
  • Rock music has been going strong for fifty years now. Yet most of the top recording groups are generally locked into the use of two or three guitars, a drum kit, a keyboard, and the human voice. Every few years, someone jumps the track and adds some horns.
  • Writers produce novel after novel, but they usually stay within rigid rules. For example, few are illustrated, and not many novellas (short novels) are produced.
  • The genius of the great classical composers remained within tightly structured rules of point and counterpoint, of harmony and orchestration. You may have to listen to music from the other side of the world – for example Balinese or Javanese Gamelan music – if you want to really get outside the box.
  • Most architects in America and Europe do not use color or organic curved shapes. Go look at the architecture of Mexico, at the architecture of Shanghai, or at Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona to dramatically expand your vision of creativity in architecture.
  • We write book after book about our technologically-driven era. But most of these books are about computers and electronics, occasionally biotech. Rare is the book that mentions what Milton Friedman thought was one of the most important technological innovations of the post-war world: the ability to raise chickens en masse. Detergent, the superstore, and the cable television system were all important technological innovations, yet we rarely think of them that way.
I am not disparaging all those rock groups that use only guitars, keyboard, and drums — my life would be much diminished if Eric Clapton and his two friends had not formed Cream. Nor am I saying we should boycott architects who don’t use color on their buildings. But if we occasionally take a step sideways, if we take the path less traveled five percent of the time, if we at least glance around us as we make our way through life, then we have a dramatically improved shot at making breakthroughs. A shot at discovering great things, at leading great enterprises, at turning dreams into reality. Only by thinking about the unexpected, by looking for the undone thing, can we really jump the track and create a whole new vision.
We all get into ruts. This book is about exploring, about getting out of ruts. I recommend that we all take more classes and learn every day. But if you are already going to night classes and have been doing so for years, then that is your rut. Skip some classes and drive through Alabama or Montana—or a unique neighborhood like New York’s Harlem. You’ll learn something surprising.
Charles Kettering was the engineering wizard at General Motors before World War II. He did more inventing than any American except Edison. Kettering started a company called Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO) in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, then sold it to GM. His new boss, Alfred Sloan, made him head of science at GM and wanted him to move to an office in Detroit. Kettering wouldn’t move, so every week he drove US Highway 25 between Dayton and Detroit. Others who drove the same stretch marveled at how Kettering made the trip hours faster than they did. When they asked him how he did it, he admitted that he detoured around small towns. He spent most of his time on country roads, not the main road. “You never get anywhere going the obvious way,” he said.
We usually only consider a tiny fraction of the possibilities available to us. At any given moment, you could be doing any one of millions of different things. You could be sailing the Nile, reading Dickens, watching sports on TV, painting a picture of your dog, or praying. Open your mind to the possibilities. Most of the excuses about why we can’t do this or that — not enough time, not enough money, not enough skill — are silly and can be overcome if the desire is strong enough.