Unicorns and Magic Dust

One of the good things that has come out of the pandemic is the speedy development of vaccines. Nothing like a threat to all of humanity to bring people together and achieve medical milestones! But short of alien invasions or another plague, what are more temperate ways to promote progress? This, it turns out, is a hard question.

I find it much easier to point out what stops progress than what ignites it. Three culprits come to mind: desire for power, inability to curb jealousy and gatekeeping (which I guess is the result of the first two human conditions). It’s no wonder successful start-ups are dubbed unicorns as the circumstances which spin out to swirl them into explosive growth are rare and magical. Any one of many fateful decisions could lead the whole project down the wrong road.

Some time ago I heard a story about one such decision made at the infancy of a present day multinational. The founder needed a place to build stuff. This was up in northern Minnesota where the land bares little more than hay and potatoes. The founder approached a local guy who had a bunch of large sheds sitting empty. He had no money, but he went to the owner and asked is he could lease the space and pay with stock certificates from his soon-to-be company.

The local guy didn’t know what to think of such a proposition. How was he to evaluate this guy from the cities and whatever it was that he would be putting together in his buildings? It wasn’t like people were banging down his door to pay him rent, but he didn’t want to play the fool (nobody wants to play the fool) either. He knew a successful real estate guy from the cities. He had done some work for him planting a nice row of Colorado Blue Spruces as a border along the drive into his lake home.

So here’s the connector part. A connector person is one who can bridge various otherwise isolated communities. The relationship is strong enough that the parties at hand trust each other and value the information being shared. Up north guy knew enough about the real estate guy: he was a college athlete, his business was successful, he was reliable. He had interacted with him enough to know he was on the up and up.

So when real estate guy leaned in and said, “Really, what do you have to loose?” Up north guy unlocked the sheds and widgets started to tumble out.

Real estate people tend to be optimistic, but what if up north guy had turn to a pessimist for advice. Instead of a ‘what have you got to loose’ response, he got a ‘those city folks are always out to take us for a ride’ response. What if there had been no one to turn to to figure out if this was a con or the real deal? What if there was a person nearby, but he was all caught up in social stature making him unapproachable?

The solution that won’t necessarily ignite progress, but would certainly set up an environment of greater potential, is the advancement of activities which encourage the mixing of people from different backgrounds, skills, and social groups.

As you probably predicted, the stock made up north guy far wealthier than the majority of other residents in the county. More than half a century later his descendants are still flush from a decision to rent or not to rent. All because he trusted sound advice and didn’t get caught up in a power play.