This is a little off topic for this blog…..or maybe not.
This past weekend I camped out in the backyard with my son. I awoke in the middle of the night and saw the stars in the clear, crisp mid-western sky. Whenever I see the night sky in this way I marvel at how we’ve been able to send men to the moon, and spacecraft to the planets in our solar system. We’ve constructed massive, space born telescopes and instrumentation to visualize galaxies, nebulae, and stars light years from our planet. The universe seems limitless and just beckoning our exploration.
So much of what we’ve accomplished is possible because people invented ways to solve problems. The progress of humanity is probably rooted on this simple point. But what motivated them….were they looking for money? Glory? Were they seeking to incorporate and then accumulate and sell stock options?
In some cases this may have been the motivation…but the vast majority of inventions start with little or no profit motive…..just a sheer desire to solve a problem. This brings me back to software. I once asked a developer, “Why do you do this? What motivates you to write code?” His answer was honest and direct: I like to solve problems. At their core, many developers, are just inventors. They can’t help creating and tinkering. It’s who they are. It’s what they’re called to do by some internal force in their genes.
Entrepreneurship has its place, but I’d like to posit the notion that maybe it’s gotten a little too much credit in our hyper-capitalist world. Maybe we need to get back to inventing things that solve problems and worry less about whether we’ll get rich doing it.
So if you’re a social media start-up or an investor in one these companies ask yourself this question:
What problem are we solving with this product that will benefit humanity?
If the answer is “none”….obviously you can still invest and do it. But should you? The world needs new solutions to real problems. It’s always novel to see a recombinant of Twitter and Facebook, but there are starker problems on this planet begging for wickedly smart minds to help.
You’ll find no stronger capitalist in the world than myself, as such I recognize that the greatest reward often comes from the idea with the greatest risk and the opportunity least sought is the one most ripe for picking.