Innovation All The Way

J.J. Richardson – an unknown name to me until recently –  must have had a most creative mind. He saw something, knew something, thought something, did something that took innovative imagination to a level unfathomable by me. I have no idea what he did with most of his life. Really, I know little to nothing about him. He lived and died way before my time, and I am sure – like all humans – he had his fair share of successes and failures, ups and downs, positives and negatives.

Though I have never met him and know only a thimble-full about him, what I do know is quite amazing. In fact, as odd as it may seem, I enjoy thinking about his invention, wondering exactly how he came up with it, and pondering just how and when it leapt off the list of innovative devices and into mainstream America. For sometime in 1863, J.J. Richardson invented a tool that I – even with my lack of skills and abilities in all things mechanical – use on a regular basis: the ratcheting socket wrench.

There are many times – with my not so nimble skills – that I reach for the ratcheting socket wrench to solve my woes when working on projects that involve nuts and bolts. It’s a great device – sturdy, dependable, simple, useful. It’s a go-to tool with little to no fanfare – a standard in today’s toolboxes.

Each time I hold the wrench, I wonder about its development. Was Mr. Richardson a home tinkerer who sought solutions to his individual challenges or was he an inventor who set out to improve the functionality of the world way beyond himself? When did he finish his invention?  Did he know that he invented something for the ages? Did he even consider that someone like me would be using his invention 150+ years later?  When he finished developing it, did he celebrate?

And finally, was there a moment when he smiled that smile that combines confidence, hope, panic, fear, and glee all in one?

Innovation is an interesting beast.  And I have been lucky enough to live during a time of significant innovation. I would be remise if I didn’t mention the high-tech innovations of my time: the internet, computers, cellphones, the rocket ship, email, texting, wifi, the digital camera.  But, I would be even more remise if I didn’t consider the lesser innovations that may have had equal impact on my life with less notoriety: plastic paint buckets with pourable spouts, self-rising flour, perma-press clothes, contact lenses, power washers.

Innovation isn’t only an interesting beast because it has made my life easier.  My interest in innovation stems from something much different.  Though I am 57 years into it, I am still looking for my role and responsibility with innovation. My search has been on for many years.  It is the quest of my life time, a chase that is worth the effort because it is simply fun. I am looking for something that most likely has no end.  With that said . . .

I am almost certain, though not positive yet, that my role with innovation doesn’t sit on the inventor side.  Not sure.  I  have high hopes that one day in the future I will join J.J. Richardson or Tim Burners-Lee or Ruth R. Benerito and invent whatever it is that sets a new course for the world at large, but I don’t think that is the focus of my talents.  I know several folks who are set to do so – youngsters, much younger than I with brilliant minds, and I am banking on their abilities to do so.

I am almost certain, though not positive yet, that my role with innovation doesn’t sit on the inventor-patron side.  Not sure. I have high hopes that one day in the future, I will join the Scientific American Patent Agency or Berkshire Hathaway or Eli Lilly or NCSA and underwrite whoever it is who is inventing the next greatest innovation that reverses whatever tide needs to be reversed and rights whatever wrong needs to be righted. I know several folks and groups of folks who are set to do so, not necessarily young, but certainly those with financial wherewithal,  and I am banking on their desire to do so.

For me, I am certain, actually fairly positive already, that I do have a role with innovation – a significant one, a necessary one, one that I enjoy and find myself entwined monthly, weekly, if not daily. It is within this area of innovation that I have high hopes that my talents fit.  My slot doesn’t exactly call for me to have that brilliant mind nor does it require finances beyond my means and dreams.  It does, however, require action and continued attention on my part.

I think my role is to encourage, to mentor, to be enthused.  My role is to do the fancy-pants-dance when others share their innovative thoughts and ideas with me.  My role is to be genuinely thrilled and supportive as I listen to whatever out-of-the-box idea I hear.  My role is to say yes-yes-yes when everyone else around the most brilliant mind may be saying no-no-no.  It is also my role to help those on the go with innovation navigate whatever waters they find challenging.

On the surface, my role may seem slight.  But I have witnessed all too many times the demise of tremendous innovation due to lack of that spiritual support that helps to move crazy great ideas beyond conceptualization.  I am a firm believer that everyone needs to hear that their ideas are worthy, more importantly they need to be shielded from hearing that their ideas are unworthy.

I know that one day someone will invent an invisibility cloak, a Jetson flying car, a wheelchair that never fails, and a cure for all cancers.  And while these innovations are in progress, I am going to faithfully fulfill my role of being an enthusiast-extraordinaire. After all, it’s my role!

An Innovation from my past.  Some may call it a board with jar lids attached.  I call it the ceiling tool bench organizer.  Simply fill jars with items like nails or screws and attach jars to the appropriate lid.  Voila - organized and stored.

An Innovation from my past. Some may call it a board with jar lids attached. I call it the ceiling tool bench organizer. Simply fill jars with items like nails or screws and attach jars to the appropriate lid. Voila – organized and stored.

Old Fashioned Is Always In Fashion

I am solidly old-fashioned.

Nothing better to me than a sharpened, yellow number two pencil and a spiral bound notebook.  I like the Slinky, red lifesavers, manual umbrellas, shredded wheat, PF Flyers, and acoustic guitars. I would rather watch a good episode of Leave It to Beaver followed by Mister Ed and Ozzie and Harriet than any of today’s new-fangled reality TV shows.    I buy a new broom at the local broom-corn festival each year and use it to sweep the garage floor over using an electric shopvac to complete the same task.  A month ago, I bought a case of glass bottled SKI soda – an old-fashioned thirst quenching classic.

Old fashioned stuff is durable.  I have owned . . . and I still use . . . the same grey metal, non-mechanical three hold punch gadget since the late 1970s.   I am not saying that I use it daily, but it hasn’t collected much dust over the years, and it’s in perfect condition.  And forget the all-in-one Black and Decker laser level that has twenty additional functions beyond maintaining a straight line, my household is the proud owner of a 30-year-old red three-foot steel version.  It’s just a level – no bells and whistles – that has been dropped off many ladders, left out in the great outdoors for days, and often lost in a crowded garage.  Yet, it still works.

Proudly, I have only owned one rolling-pin though I have owned several kitchens; I have had the same key ring for a couple of decades; and, I am a one jewelry box per lifetime type of gal. Keep in mind that all of this has nothing to do with being frugal.  It has more to do with just liking things they way they were. Old-fashioned.

Same for my language.  Sure, I could use all of the latest and greatest lingo, including the more salty versions of yesterday’s banned language.  But, I still stick with the tried and true slang that has helped to get me to this point without too much trouble.  Groovy, righteous, awesome or bumble head, holy guacamole, yikes – multipurpose old-fashioned words that seem to fit well into all kinds of conversations.

And I have found that old-fashioned almost always equals crazy funny.  One of my relatives fixed and ate a fried bologna sandwich at my house recently.  For those of you who have not had the experience, fried bologna is an ancient delicacy first created by . . . probably Mr. Oscar Mayer himself in some long ago century.  Thirty seconds in a skillet, paired with white bread and catsup, this sandwich is a comedic display of old-fashioned in motion.  It is a chuckler!

And no game is as crazy funny as good old-fashioned Spoons.  Honestly, I have played several of today’s XBOX/WII/KINECT 3D video games, and they are fun.  But, Spoons!!! Played with a deck of cards, a handful of spoons and a bunch of crazy funny relatives, this game reaches deep into the crazy funny well. No laughs greater than when full-grown kissin’ cousins jump over a table to pull coveted spoons out of challengers’ hands during a family ‘friendly’ version of this game.  Another old-fashioned chuckler.

I often tell myself that I don’t understand the lure of the old-fashioned for me . . . that this old-fashioned fascination is a mystery.  But, when I really think about it, I know for sure that the draw towards old-fashioned isn’t simply due to a preference for card games, or food, or language, or frugality.  It’s more than that.

With every generation, there seems to be a strong penchant for change . . . from clothing styles . . . to modes of transportation . . . to energy sources . . . to an endless list of activities and items that have been reinvented, improved, changed.  Life today is significantly different from life in any other moment in time. Certainly, almost all changes have  been positive and welcomed and for the betterment of all humankind.

Yet, there is a part of life that I believe should remain constant . . . a part of life that should be considered a masterpiece, a part that should somehow be exempt from change.  Certainly that includes the lapping sounds of the ocean waves and the majesty of the highest mountain peaks.  It includes the freedom enjoyed by animals in the wild and the beauty each year of summer, fall, winter, and spring.  It includes quiet skies and peaceful meadows.  I know it includes the brilliance and genius of those who have gone before us along with the brilliance and genius of those who are still in our future.

Thus, however, explains my penchant for everything old-fashioned.

I may have to change the form of my telephone from a hard-wired, LAN line cordless system plugged into the wall to a cellphone carried in my coat pocket.  I may have to heat my home with solar, geothermal, and/or wind rather than the current fossil fuels available.  And I may have to give up the tried and true General Mills Wheaties – the breakfast of champions – for a more nutritious protein bar option.

But, for those few things that I can somehow manage to hold constant, I am on-board.

Bring on potato pancakes and King Bing bars.  Give me a pile of leaves and hand me a rake complete with a wooden handle and steel prongs.  Let me haul out box after box of old crazy funny holiday decorations that have lasted multiple decades because they were made in the days of the giants.

Finally, hand me a dented red level to keep me headed on the straight and narrow any day of the week.  And watch my willingness to change grow as I find comfort in keeping some things . . . just a few old-fashioned things . . . in my life constant.

The Rocky Mountains . . . An Old-Fashioned Constant