Monday, March 10, 2008

An embarrassing moment and what I learned from it

For many years, I've joked to friends and family, usually during public radio pledge drives, that someone should invent a device connecting to your radio that, after you've paid up, turns off all those requests for money during NPR pledge drives. You get back to the regular programming you've paid for. I thought that was something I could work into an article or a story someday.

One night last week, I was at a dinner party, listening to someone who was building an innovative radio for the BBC. Also listening was a respected colleague. He said that someone should invent a device connecting to your radio that, after you've paid up, turns off all those requests for money during NPR pledge drives. Independently, he had come up with the same line (for me it was a joke; for him -- a successful entrepreneur -- it was a potential invention). I felt uncomfortable saying something like, "Hey, I thought of that, too," and stepping on his line, so I said nothing.

This reminded me of something that happened when Jane and I bought a hybrid car back in 2002. A neighbor said he'd thought of a hybrid engine years earlier. I laughed about it, but it illuminates a point that's also relevant to the public radio joke/invention line: It doesn't matter so much that you have an idea. What matters is whether you do anything with the idea. Otherwise it's just a line in your notebook doing nothing.

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