Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Paradox: We Consider Worthless What Has Made us Rich

Pablo Picasso sits at the bar minding his own business, staring into the bottom of his Pernod snifter and trying to remember which one or more of his wives and/or girlfriends he currently lives with. Some dude rolls up and says to Picasso, "I am a great admirer of your art. Could you draw something for me?"

Picasso has some work ethic, so he answers, "Sure." He whips a pencil out of his leather European man-purse, grabs a bar napkin and spends ten minutes sketching up something. He hands it to the admirer. "That will be ten thousand dollars."

The admirer blanches speechless. Finally, he says, "But it took you ten minutes to do this!"

Picasso replies, "Yes, but it took me fifty years to learn how to do this in ten minutes. And that is what you are paying for."

What a noodler of an anecdote! Eventually, after you think about it, you understand the point is that the perfection of the end game is what counts, not how long or hard you day-labored.

I listened to one of those TedTalks today. I like TedTalks because they last a maximum of 18 power-packed minutes, which is approximately five minutes longer than my current attention span but still within a workable range. My new favorite genius is Juan Enrique and he came up with a doozie to rival Picasso.

Before the computer revolution, all the billions of Chinese and Indians supplied 40% of the world GDP. In 2007, their global percentage had dwindled to like 4.8%. That's odd because we all know that I.C.'s underpin the success of Silicon Valley. Not the Integreted Circuitboard I.C.'s, but the Indians and the Chinese I.C.'s.

Conundrum solved by Juan Enrique: it takes 3000 Americans in the U.S. to file one patent. It takes 6 MILLION Indians in India. Holy hell. Extreme Paper Pushing is bigger than Cricket out there on the sub-continent. Middle managers can wear white and sit around for 8 to 10 hour tournaments called "Meetings" or "The Approval Process" or whatever other kinds of sporty play captivates a crowd and involves as many outfielders as possible.

Obviously, it's not hands but brains, and an environment that nurtures the use of brains, that is the commodity of real value nowadays. The wisdom to come up with a way to push less paper and reach a superior end game faster. The wisdom to devise a better computer chip or better robot or more beautiful song or more thrilling movie.

And that's why I'm so disturbed by the paradox. What we are willing to pay for versus what is of value.

Take the invention of the paper clip for example. One piece of folded up metal is worth ten cents. The ingeniousness to fold it up that way in the first place is the priceless part. Right? Seriously, am I right?

Say the woman who invented the paper clip showed it to some manufacturer, who paid her ten cents for the prototype paperclip and then slyly copied out millions of paper clips and made a fortune. The manufacturer paid the woman a fair price for a piece of folded metal, ten cents. Maybe the manufacturer paid her double its value: twenty cents.

Do you believe the woman was fairly compensated? If you do, then go ahead and help yourself to your vendors' business processes or next-gen thinking. Feel free to skulk around Pirate Bay. Enjoy the tangible culminations of other people's years and decades of bloody fingers, insurance-less ill-health and single-minded focus. After all, a .doc, an .mp3, a .mov, or of any other file has an inherent value of, well, nothing; so their work is worth nothing.

Pablo Picasso was wrong.
Post a Comment