Have You Missed the Boat?

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Do you ever feel like you missed the boat? Do you ever feel like opportunity has, once again, passed you by? Do you ever find yourself saying, “If only I had…

…invented the Pet Rock;
…bought into Microsoft when it first went public;
…come up with the idea for Facebook?”

Somehow the innovations always seem to go to the other guy. It’s not that you’re not smart; it’s just that your timing is off, right?

Bull crap.

Charles Duell, the Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, supposedly said in 1899 “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Turns out he never actually said that, but the sentiment lives on. “All the good ideas have already been taken, and I missed out.”

John Lennon felt that way once, when he was a kid listening to Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley on the radio. This was rock and roll, the amazing, innovative musical force coming from America, and he had missed it. He was born too late, and in the wrong country. It would have been very easy for John Lennon to simply have shrugged his shoulders and said, “Too bad. It would have been nice, but those guys got there first. Lucky stiffs!”

Be honest—haven’t you had thoughts like that from time to time? Somebody else had the great idea and made millions (or billions) of dollars. “Lucky stiff,” you think to yourself as you open another beer and settle in for a night of American Idol.

Funny thing, luck. It always seems to come to those who work their tails off.

So John Lennon could have whined about his rotten luck. Of course, if he had chosen that road we never would have known, because we never would have heard of John Lennon. No doubt there were thousands of kids in England who did just that, and we’ve never heard of any of them.

What did John Lennon do instead? He got some friends of his together, formed a band, and completely rewrote the rules of rock. Lucky? Yep. He was lucky he lived in the same town as a fellow named McCartney. He was lucky a guy named Brian Epstein happened to hear them one day and offered to manage them. He was lucky that chance put his band in the care of the brilliant producer George Martin. No doubt about it, John Lennon was one lucky guy. But here’s the thing: none of that “luck” would have happened if John had just shrugged his shoulders and whined. Rather than complain about missing the boat, John Lennon worked his tail off and built a new boat, a better boat, a boat the likes of which nobody had ever seen before.

Yes, there’ve been a lot of wonderful innovations, and you may not have come up with any of them. A lot of these innovations have made a lot of people very, very rich, and you may not be one of them. You missed the boat. That’s the bad news.

Now, here’s the good news: innovative ideas are 100% free, and there’s no limit to how many you can have! You didn’t invent Post-It Notes? Too bad. Invent something else. You didn’t invest in Microsoft? Bummer. Invest in something else. You didn’t come up with Facebook? Neither did 7 billion other people. Come up with something else. Skip American Idol this week and spend that time tapping into your own limitless source of innovation: your brain. The good ideas have not all been taken; they never will be. There’s always room for more.

You didn’t miss the boat. You just haven’t built it yet.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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