For Innovation and Progress, It Takes All Three
By Roger Mummert,
Content Director, Review of Optometric Business
Oct. 3, 2018
Throughout our American experience, we have extolled the “visionary.” We romanticize the lone figure, riding tall in the saddle through a mountain pass that leads a party of pioneers to a land where gold sparkles in the streams and fertile fields yield a glorious bounty.
In politics, the visionary of the late 20th Century was Ronald Reagan, who heralded “morning in America.” In medicine, Michael DeBakey, MD, saw the possibility of transplanting a heart. In business, Elon Musk envisioned blue skies unfouled by the carbon burned by automobiles. Musk’s own source of inspiration was Nicolai Tesla, the visionary of alternating current. Tesla held the conundrum of how to transport electricity over long distances in his mind for years, working and reworking it, until a solution appeared and it cascaded onto a schematic that brought electricity to the hinterlands.
But does true innovation and progress come just from the epiphanies of visionaries? Or do we overlook two other vital players in the innovation process?
All hail the “tweakers” and “grunts.” They get it done. And optometric practices can learn a lot from them.
Tweakers Make It Work Better
The first stage of the Industrial Revolution was made possible, in large part, by water power. By diverting a stream into a mill pond, water was concentrated through a sluice to turn a wheel that powered a shaft that, in turn, made machines run. A village became a factory.
Historians note, however, that a tweak in this process–turning the wheel sideways and creating a turbine–generated twice the power. You can see how that simple tweak enabled the Dupont family to build a fortune in manufacturing gunpowder on the “H2 OH! Tour” at the Hagley Museum and Library in Delaware.
Who was that “tweaker?” Unfairly, that person was lost to history, but their contribution was huge.
Today, tweaking is as vital as ever. Pharmaceutical companies share research between departments, in hopes that a drug meant for one purpose can yield benefits elsewhere. The drug Latisse was invented for treatment of glaucoma. Growing lashes was an unexpected side effect–and it provided an opportunity for ECPs to serve patient needs.
Steve Jobs never wrote code; in fact, he never invented anything. But he saw the potential of tweaking existing technology for greater gains. He tweaked the graphic interface developed by Xerox, and the Mac with its mouse was born. That gave rise to “desktop publishing.” Now companies galore tweak the Apple store concept, which itself is a bundle of tweakings of retail theories dressed up in blazing white.
Tweaking is key in space exploration. Scientists employ the ancient Japanese art of origami in spacecraft design. They are adapting paper folding into “fat origami” to miniaturize components that unfold in space. A circular solar panel can be folded to the size of a suitcase for launch–then expanded to a 100-feet diameter in space. To see the power of tweaking, watch “The Origami Revolution” on PBS.
Grunts Make It Work
When Bill Gates and Warren Buffet first met, Bill’s father asked them to separately write down the quality most critical to business success. When they compared papers, both had penned the same word: “focus.”
The annals of business success are filled with CEOs who say of their early years, “I wasn’t the sharpest pencil” or “I wasn’t on the honor roll.” That usually is coupled with, “…but I kept at it,” and “I knew I had to work harder.”
The late Robert Morrison, OD, told me just that. “I wasn’t top of my class,” he said, “but I knew that if I became the best at whatever I did good things would follow.” Indeed, fame and fortune did follow, after he excelled as a contact lens innovator, manufacturer, clinician, educator and promoter of the soft contact lens.
Is there a more storied athletic career than that of Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees shortstop and captain? “I knew that players with greater natural abilities would come along,” he said of the remarkable longevity of his 20-year career. “But no one was going to out-hustle or out-prepare me.”
Hats off to the Yankees captain and business inspiration. It sounds heretical to call Derek Jeter a “grunt,” but he may have been one of the greatest “grunts” of all time.
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Roger Mummert is Content Director for Review of Optometric Business. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.