No good comes of not leaving the house for four straight days. Even if busy working, setting my pace sometimes leaves too much room to overtime thinking. While scouring the web for interesting blog topics, I came across an article on Wired on the genesis of the Apple Watch. Until that moment, I never gave the Apple watch much thought other than admiring its design.
I certainly don’t need an Apple watch. Three minutes into the article, I still didn’t need an Apple watch but the seed of a want was planted and it had nothing to do with desiring a gadget or a luxury item: rather, I was blown away by the thinking behind the product.
Jony Ive, Apple’s vice president of design, was struck by the thought of producing a watch but, not sure for what purpose, he took the idea to the team. Years later, and I am summarizing, Apple came to the conclusion that we, the consumers, have become so dependent on our smart phones, to the point of social relations disruption, that it might be time for a gadget that prioritized what our phones can do. The idea that a company would have the guts to turn their lead product upside down, trying to take us down a less is more road, whether we are ready or not, gave me pause. The watch might or might not be successful but that is beside the point. The thinking behind it was big, innovative and a touch iconoclastic. It wasn’t the idea of a single person but of a collective who has the luxury of being able to dream big.
I am rarely envious but, but by the end of the article, I was steeped in envy. I wish I could think like that, I murmured and here is when too much solitude leads me down a path of self-reflection that is not always welcome. Upon examining my usual line of thinking, about work or life in general, I chastised myself for being too conventional, for not daring enough. Sometimes I dare more with my actions than with my thoughts.
What does innovative thinking require? Can it be fostered or is it a by-product of a certain personality? On the surface, it seems to me it requires an obsession I do not possess. I am not an obsessive person nor do I have an addictive personality which, at face value, could be considered as good traits to have.
A long profile on Jony Ive that appeared in the New Yorker a few months ago, revealed an Englishman obsessed with design, who spends most of his waking hours examining how objects are made and whether they add visual pleasure to any landscape. Minute details like a pantone on a lamp, the corner of a sideboard or the length of a table that wouldn’t give most of us much pause, lead someone like Jony Ive down a rabbit hole.
Is obsession the mark of genius then? Is dedication enough? In her memoir “Then Again”, Diane Keaton reveals that Al Pacino was the love of her life. The sentiment was mutual for a while but the relationship floundered because of Mr. Pacino’s complete and utter dedication to acting, his inability to strike a balance, his need to take home his characters. The results, on screen and on stage, of his obsession have paid off, most of the time.
Silicon Valley, that hotbed of American innovation, is not the paradise it appears to be. The young entrepreneurs who come up with new ideas have the luxury of not having to focus on much else. The prevalent corporate culture discourages starting families or having children while encouraging complete dedication to the start-up. My short stint at Google had me wide-eyed at the beginning: being able to work wherever one felt like it; taking pets to work; dry-cleaning delivered to your desk; going to the gym in the middle of the day; 27 free restaurants to choose from and on and on with the perks that, in the end, lock you into the campus in a perpetual state of work. I might be playing golf at 2 pm on a Wednesday but, while still on campus, my subconscious is more likely to keep on working on the idea/problem/code whatever at hand.
Is such innovative thinking the product of bright young things only then?
I believe innovation and/or societal changes stem from looking at something we don’t like and obsessing over how to change it. As women, we have been conditioned to think small, to think local: how to take care of our immediate surrounding and our immediate tribe. It might not come natural to us to think in extra-large sizes. Women of my mother’s generation could scarcely conceive of a career while those in their 20s now feel free, at least in the Western world, to let their aspirations roam, so we are making slow progress.
If obsession, paired with dedication, is indeed the most fertile ground for innovative thinking, it feels unnatural to someone like me, more prone to strike a balance between different facets of life. Obsessions get checked at the door when entering the realm of caring for others. So, yes, maybe it is a pursuit best suited to youth.
When I sent the Wired article to sofagirl, briefly expressing my sentiments, she replied “They are not afraid to dream big. We should do the same.” Maybe it’s too late but there is certainly no harm in trying.