Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Darned if I didn't think I'd shut that door!

[Door knocks]


Hi, AD... it's Tasse Plein. I got a call from June Strawberry. They're looking to hire someone to cover some classes. It's a one-year appointment. Don't know if it's long term, but they've got an overflow of students. If they continue to have an overflow... well, you were the first person I thought of. I know you said you'd had enough, and I respect that. I just still think you'd do a great job.
Ain't it always that way? The call came during the entrepreneurship conference. Actually there was a voice mail that I returned. The school is 7 hours' drive from here. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) there are no direct flights, so travel by plane would likely still take 5 hours or more, what with travel to and from regional airports and arriving early for departure.

It's hard to say, still hard to say, but it's not really what I'm seeking now. I just don't want to burn any bridges. It's not that I'm no longer interested in the academy. In some ways, I'm irredeemably connected. "One foot in/one foot out". I may shut the door, but it's ever in sight. You never know when the knock will come, or when I'll choose to open it up, to see if the courtyard appears at all changed.

I've been doing more and more searches on the internet, mostly "prior art" searches, trying to uncover the known universe of research in my area. People are looking at the geography for sure. They're just not using my tools. I am increasingly assured of that. There's a patent to be had, with little problem I'm sure.

But, as was hammered home at this conference: patents don't make sales... products make sales. "And why are sales important?" you may ask. Fair enough question. I mean it's all about the research, about asking interesting questions, finding answers, right? Why climb the mountain? Because it's there, right?

Ah, yes... but you can't climb a mountain without the necessary equipment and resources. Years ago, foolishly convinced by a friend, I entered a bicycle race. I hadn't trained. Not a bit. I rode my bike daily, wasn't that enough. Humiliation. You need to have the resources and the stamina. What gives a researcher resources and stamina? Ah... there's the rub.

See, as you will recall, I have no institutional affiliation, no academic support network. I have no foundation, no trust, no lab. I have my trusty "Moose" and my home office. And I've got ideas. Oh have I got ideas. But ideas alone won't pay the mortgage. And I've got a limited time to live off savings.

I met a lot of investors at the conference. What's your 30-second commercial? Do you have an "elevator speech"? Repeatedly I heard something along the lines of "it's not the technology, it's the revenue". The trick, the real trick is to make us both happy. What they want desperately to give me is the resources to succeed, so long as they get what they want in return. We may differ on how we define success... but that doesn't mean our definitions are mutually exclusive. To the contrary, by making them happy, I'm more likely to ensure I've got the resources to keep it all going for thirty years.

See, that's my goal. Get me to 70! Then I'll reassess. But how to get there? Everyone who got where they are... started where they were. Indeed! I've no aversion to success, even financial or business success. I'm fine with that. It's just not my motivation. What I want is to remain true to what I hold dear. Knowledge, inquiry. Ask important and interesting questions. Propel human understanding forward.

Now, from the investor's standpoint: so what? Fine, they've different motivations. But I still have to answer that so what. What problems are you solving? That's a good question for us researchers. It's fine to climb a mountain because it's there. But if one particular mountain lies between my cache of food and a starving village, there's a bit more impetus to the project. Nice thing is: I get to climb the mountain either way. So I begin to ask myself these questions. In finding the answers to them, I'll discover the best paths to take at this stage of the journey.

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