Innovation. What is it about doing things in a new way that scares us to death? For all of the history of mankind, the only way our lifestyle has improved is by finding new ways of accomplishing old tasks. For instance, the introduction of the wheel into the enterprises of humans altered history with implements of war, to say nothing of the improvement in diet, in personal transportation, and in countless machines that improve the lot of mankind, but that wouldn’t function at all without wheels and gears in them. Even today, as we sit at our ultra-sophisticated, technologically-advanced lap-top and desk-top computers, there are wheels inside which allow them to function, to be cooled, to open and close mechanisms. The use of fire and subsequently, flame-less sources of heat allow us to live comfortably, to eat cooked food which offers less health risks, even to build mammoth machines with huge welders or minuscule circuit boards with the tiniest of soldering irons. But to achieve any of these historical transformations, along with countless others, someone, or more accurately, a lot of someones, had to be willing to think creatively, to imagine what was possible, instead of only seeing the current reality.
I’m not such a thinker. Many times, when I’m presented with a new, innovative apparatus, I look at how it works (I’m fascinated by mechanics) and say, “That’s so simple! I could have invented that!” But I never have invented anything. My brain doesn’t work that way. A case in point–I have complained for years that the digital tuners used for adjusting the pitch of guitars and similar instruments are useless in a room full of musicians, simply because they pick up each and every note being played in the room and cannot be made to focus on the instrument which is being tuned. All this time, I’ve known about and used, piezo or contact microphones, which pick up sound transmitted through a solid instrument, for amplification. In recent years, some visionary had the insight to see that the two could be married into a digital tuner with a piezo microphone built into it, which could then be clipped onto any instrument you wish, thus tuning only that instrument. In a room full of ear-shattering music, the tuner is impervious to any sound but that of the guitar or banjo or bass to which it is affixed.
How simple is that? And how could I not have been the one who combined the two very common tools, thus making a fortune? I want to have a “Eureka” moment, want to be able to say, “I knew it would work all along,” but that doesn’t seem to be one of my gifts. In fact, I often find myself looking down on the dreamers, the visionaries, as simply goof-offs…nut-cases who don’t have anything better to do with their time than sit and play with Frankenstein-monster devices that will never work.
I was proud of myself today, though. Little Addison was here again. You remember…the little girl and the puzzle? Well today she was marching around the store banging on a child’s drum we keep for just such occasions. I always like to show the young prodigies how to hold the drum and the ideal way to grip the mallet and then encourage them to hammer away at the drum, but today, I let Addison go. She used the mallet for awhile and then, knowing that a guitar pick was also a tool for making music, relinquished her grip on the mallet in favor of a pick, trying one shape and then another on the head of the drum. It wasn’t nearly as loud as the mallet, but the varying sounds she achieved captivated her, encouraging her to continue her quest, trying all the shapes, then different materials, until she had exhausted the possibilities. Now, I know that you don’t play a drum with a guitar pick, but she doesn’t. This little explorer hasn’t yet been told that you should only use the “right tool for the right job” and I wasn’t about to be the one to tell her. I live in hopes that some of the young brains that come in and out of my business will one day surprise everyone around them with some brilliant device which will revolutionize music. And the way it starts is with experimentation; with sounds, with textures, with manipulation.
My days of imagining and innovating are long since past. I have been a black & white, linear thinker for too long to suppose that I will be able to break free of this path. But, I fervently and passionately believe that we can encourage the dreamers among us, instead of making fun of them. We must find ways to channel their imagination and help our children to see that there are better ways of doing things. It’s not easy for me to do, but I am resolved not to be the one who says, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
Long live the Addisons of this world!