It would be easy to read the title and think to yourself that it’s all about money. Not only is money green, but to see it as the driver of our economy would be logical, natural and straightforward. It would also be wrong.
The Irish poet Dylan Thomas wrote The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower, a personal favorite and the inspiration for that enigmatic title. As a rule, I am not a huge poetry fan. A college friend who was an English major once tried to convince me that Mary’s little lamb was a metaphor for chastity. My relationship with poetry was changed forever. I like Thomas’s work because although it is considered by experts to be quite difficult, it can also be read and enjoyed at a casual level.
From the back row of Poetry 1A where I sit, Thomas portrays the cycle of creation and destruction as if they are one and the same, while conveying a strong sense of the inescapable flow of time. The great economists of the past century (e.g. Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy) have described capitalism in a similar fashion, giving birth to the phrase “creative destruction.” Further exploration of this comparison is left to those students who are moving on to Poetry 1B.
The real economic force at work here is not venture capital, but another element often associated with the color green. It courses through the arteries of our lives, fueling our desires and driving our choices. Without our awareness, it seizes control and dictates our path. It taunts and frustrates us, interrupts our sleep, and wrecks our relationships. It creates in us a momentary feeling of comfort, and then quickly destroys it. We are surrounded by examples.
Owing an automobile is essential. If you don’t have one, society does not take you seriously. Tell a new acquaintance what kind of car you drive and they immediately rank you somewhere between a Nissan Versa and the CL-Class. From the early days of Henry Ford, the automobile industry has exploited this by tweaking their overall look just enough to make next year’s model stand out from the last. What year BMW did you say that was? Does it have the newest Blaupunkt surround-sound system?
Even more ubiquitous than the automobile is the cell phone. Unless you are a Luddite or you live in a nursing home with no service, you have one of these. They are quite possibly the fastest evolving status symbol in modern history. While I was waiting for my contract upgrade to an iPhone 4S, the buzz had already shifted to the Galaxy S-III (and, as I write this, the iPhone 5). Apple, the acknowledged master of must-have, is two-thirds of the way to becoming history’s first trillion dollar company.
All of this leads to economic growth, generally accepted as a precursor to global well-being. This is a bit shortsighted. Despite appearances, the world is not made up exclusively of 16-29 year old millennial males. While the technology juggernauts are busy chasing the top 1% of the population, the remainder is much more concerned with clean water, sanitation, agricultural efficiency, human rights and adequate health care. Beyond the borders of the U.S., the average citizen can’t really afford to indulge in the type of personal identity crisis that cries out for more bling.
We, on the other hand, will recycle a perfectly usable item, go deeper into debt, and sacrifice countless hours of sleep worrying over the desire we feel for the next greatest thing. The force that through the green fuse drives the economy, from the very beginning, is envy.
The whole business of yearning for someone else’s stuff is not new, and it has been recognized for a very long time that it does not end well. One of the earliest recorded warnings, attributed to Moses circa 1400 BCE, goes like this - “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17 New International Version) There aren’t many servants, oxen, or donkeys in my neighborhood, but “anything” could of course include cars, cell phones, iStuff, etc.
Interrupting the creative destruction of envy is not easy. Focus on your own skills, your own relationships, and igniting your own spirit. Cultivate your own garden. Define success in your own terms. You can’t do this if you are wasting time trying to be someone else. If you are doing your best and lifting up your personal values, then your life is moving along exactly as it should.
Sometimes a little perspective will help. Try Googling “Class of 1925”, and take a good look at one of the pictures that comes up. Study the faces and the expressions. Some of these people were the objects of envy for their looks, their achievements, and their stuff. They may have led awesome lives, had good reputations, and done much to help their fellow man. Now, they are dead.
Life is short. Why not chase your own dream, instead of someone else’s?
Prior to founding INVENTtPM, Dr. Smith spent 10 years with Seagate Technology in Longmont, Colorado. At Seagate, he was primarily responsible for evaluating new data storage technologies under development throughout the company, and utilizing six-sigma processes to stage them for implementation in early engineering models. While at Seagate, he was a proud member of the team that brought the world’s first notebook disk drive with perpendicular recording technology to the market.
Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, a Master of Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.