Old Gold

Ideas are unbounded by Time. They reside in the higher dimensions of Consciousness. At the right time and place, they trickle down. 

In a world driven by exchanges of money for products and services to meet various demands, the search for new ideas is constant. In that quest, the natural tendency is to mimic ideas that previously gained acceptance and also build upon the most recent commercial successes. So, there is a commensurate tendency to dismiss the idea that failed in the past in favor of something completely different and original. Yet some flops, even world-class flops, are failures not because they are bad ideas but because they are ahead of their time. To be too soon is as problematic as being too late. Timing can be everything, although it is never the only thing. 

In the 1960s, inspired by IBM’s announcement of an audio-response device, I invented, on paper, a regional telephonic network to help consumers save time while helping merchants stimulate sales and better manage inventories. The only planned users of electronic voice units were institutions, such as banks, with application limited to accessing certain records telephonically. The potential seemed much greater to me, yet my idea never made it past phase one of market testing because local Chamber of Commerce executives felt that such a network encroached on their turf and merchants were unable to see beyond the start-up cost. My vision was akin to today’s World-Wide Web, but a web to strengthen rather than displace brick-and-mortar retailers. 

Nikola Tesla was similarly devoted to grand visions facilitated by technology, and he was similarly naïve with respect to politics and economics. He invented a way to distribute electricity to consumers without using wires, but that approach was never used, or even widely publicized, because it would not have enabled metering and charging for this natural resource. Bucky Fuller invented the Dymaxion house, which remains the most low-cost energy-efficient solution to the world-housing crisis; yet, again, few people have even heard of it. Fuller’s idea was not flawed technologically or in terms of service to humanity; it was, in fact, too good for the time (and place). Leonardo da Vinci invented a flying machine, but the light-weight alloys needed to make it work did not yet exist. 

The point is that sometimes the best next idea for an individual, company, or nation is an idea formulated in the past that either failed or was never given a real opportunity to succeed. I call such ideas “old gold.”  Every mature corporation and individual has mines containing some old gold that deserves reconsideration once in a while. Sometimes a simple modification of old gold can turn the key and open a door that has been locked for a long time. A friend of mine who, as a youth, dreamed of becoming a professional golfer settled for a career in banking, but when he retired he resurrected a modified version of his dream by buying and operating a profitable golf course. 

Although I had no hand in it, I felt vindicated with respect to my Electronic Merchant Support System when Wal-Mart recently announced its latest way to accommodate cash and gift card customers: by encouraging them to place orders via the internet and then pick up the products at their nearest superstore. I have ideas for the further refinement of that program if someone in marketing at Wal-Mart (or any other brick-and-mortar retailer) is interested—just saying.

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2 Responses to “Old Gold”

  1. The Donald Says:

    Can you cite an example of “old gold” that has increased in value and may finally find acceptance at this time?

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    An “old gold” idea deserving resurrection with modifications is the wrist radio-TV featured in the long-defunct Dick Tracy comic strip.

    The basic cell phone was an amazing advance beyond the first clunky wireless portables. However, I need to use a flash-drive lanyard to hang my small cell around my neck because it pops off my belt and is too chunky to carry in a pocket. The new multi-application devices are even worse for me—too large, heavy as a micro-brick, not wearable around the neck, and less convenient for use as a mobile phone.

    Several companies have begun making 21st-century versions of Tracy’s wrist-radio: cellular watchphones. This is an old-gold idea made new, but the technology needs further refining. I have not yet seen anyone using one, but feel certain this will become the phone of choice to which the less handy multi-ap devices will become companions.

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