18 April, 2011

The times ain't changin'

Melbourne Herald Sun, April 15, 2011

For years now Bob Dylan has not been shy to point out that he never set out to lead any protest movements or become the voice of his generation. He was just a rock 'n' roll singer who drifted into folk and politics because that was where the action was at the time.

The fact that little Robert Zimmerman just happened to write some of the greatest poetry of the 20th century was a by-product of his quest.

This has been happening as long as history. Shakespeare was an actor who wrote plays so that he could get work. He could knock them out and produce them in a few months, making sure he always got a part.

More recently there was another penniless actor, who wrote a script and refused to let anyone else play the lead role. That's how Sylvester Stallone got into the big time with Rocky.

The point is, as Rocky would say, as a working stiff no-one's going to do you any favours. If you want a project to succeed you have to do it yourself.

Business, like so much of our lives, is a mixture of ability, hard work, a sense of direction - and especially good luck.

The luck of meeting the right person at the right time; of being in the right place when an important decision is about to be made; of being touched by the fairy godmother and having the sense to realise it.

That can be the way to riches, like Leonard Bosack and Sandy Lerner. They both worked at Stanford University, California.

Starry-eyed newlyweds, he devised a way to connect the computers in his Computer Science lab with her Business School network. To do it he created a device that controlled the routes taken by packets of data. And the router was born.

A couple of years later the couple left to start their own company, Cisco. Which at last count was worth $40 billion. The Bosacks aren't there any more and there are disputes about the history, but I like the idea that a man invented a multi-billion dollar industry so he could tell his wife what time he'd be home for dinner.

The Nobel Prize is the world's greatest award, but it exists because of a split second when the pendulum of fate could have delivered riches - or death.

Alfred Nobel was a Norwegian chemist trying to find a way to stabilise the notoriously dangerous explosive chemical, nitroglycerine. One day a flask of it was knocked off his bench. Which should have blown him to smithereens. But when it didn't, he searched to find out why.

It turned out that sawdust on the laboratory floor absorbed the chemical and pacified it. After numerous experiments with other agents, dynamite was born and Nobel became one of the richest men of the 19th century.

Fortune's kiss still pecks at random. Less than a decade ago at San Diego, a graduate student called Jamie Link was working on a piece of silicon when it disintegrated into dust. But then she investigated the properties of this dust and found that it could still work as sensors.

Her team at the university, led by Professor Michael Sailor, have developed these into chemical detectors that can warn of hazardous chemicals such as a biological attack, or be injected into the body to detect particular genes or bacteria.

It's an invention where science has not even started to count its possible uses. But around the world thousands of labs are working on it. Before long a whole new industry could be born doing - what we can't even begin to imagine.

So don't be scared of accidents or disasters - take a close look to see if there could be the kiss of fortune behind them.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such poetry!
Fortune's kiss still pecks at random.

I love it! :-)