Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is happiness inspiring innovation?

The other day President Sarkozy of France proposed a fresh new look at and focus on happiness as a potential mechanism to get France (and the world?) out of the current crisis.

When someone asked about our opinion on the matter, we chose to tell this story in the answer below:

"I would say finally somebody with the power and leverage to do something about it gets it... In a way, we should've predicted it... it had to come from France like so many other good things (from the US success in the Independence War relying on French loans and muskets, through the past/current US industrial/research/military might relying in much part on Du Pont, all to good French wine or champagne).

Let me share a short story in case you haven't heard it yet...

Somewhere on the Pacific coast of Mexico, a Mexican fisherman pulls his boat to the shore around 11 am. A gentleman in a suit and tie standing at the pier asks him after saying hello "coming back ashore so early?" "Yes, I got all my fish I need for the day already. I can go home now with it." "So what are you going to do now?" "I'll just go home, cook this fish, have lunch with my family, and then I'll go see some friends and family in the village" "Well, look, I don't think this is very smart. I am a ... MBA, I can help you do things much much better" "OK, how would that be?" "Well, you could work more, say from 7 am to 9 pm each day." "And?" "You would get much more fish." "And" "You would sell it, and make a pretty profit" "And?" "You would grow your business, buy several other boats, hire many people to work for you..." "And?" "You would grow your business more and more, until you will open a worldwide headquarters in NY City and will have a global successful business, trading on NYSE." "And?" "And then you'll be so rich that you can retire early" "And?" "Then since you would be retired, you can buy a house on the beach somewhere and enjoy life with your friends and family..." "And how long you think all that would take?" "About twenty years if you're determined"... Then comes the fisherman's answer "Thank you for your great expert advise... I will think about it..." And after some 30 seconds of pondering, the fisherman goes on...
"Well, I can do that right now...."

Having said that, we most probably _do_ need (and it could be long overdue) newly framed valuation.

A good classic read could be "How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day" by Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), available in either text or audio format here:

The idea is not at all new. In Buthan they seem to have accomplished some/much (opinion based relative assessment) in that spirit. In Brazil also there is a plethora of eco-villages providing a simple in/connected to nature life. Other examples abound. Only our re-descovering it may be newer. We could hope we learn something new practical/applied in real life and adjusting ourselves and society's ways this time around."

[the complete discussion on LinkedIn with many more much more inspiring answers is here:

We understand that it is hard to connect this with InnovationTrek. Yet, a friend was puzzled by the answer above and challenged us to explain our stance on happiness. In his view happiness could be driven from or even driving a dolce farniente which would be innovation shattering, and maybe even killing any drive or desire for innnovation.

We respect said view. This could happen very easily indeed, unfortunately.

However, we wanted to point out a few things in clarification... hence the answer below, as adapted.

How should we put it? In part the drive we have towards happiness even through a simple life comes from our personal life and from perspective thinking, just like in the fisherman story above. Perspective thinking made me finally buy (after 30 years of wanting one) a decent photo camera and I have been learning again an old childhood passion and hobby, denied to me for many years. The creativity of picture taking in challenging situations when you have to outsmart the limitations of the (even the best--not that I own one) camera compared to the human eye. Yet, that is not enough. Searching, and knowing you found when you see it, takes effort but also pleasure, hence happiness. Yet.. About the camera and happiness and how it can be inspiring... Understanding how it works and what makes a Nikon slightly different (yet still much limited compared to the human eye--some pictures can simply not exist as pictures no matter what camera you shoot with) than other cameras led me to the ideas expressed below in the Nikon MMS story. Did this come in part from the happiness of owning it and playing with it?

We think the fisherman is producing and can thus be innovative too. His lifestyle makes sense in his cultural context. In fact the MBA envies the lifestyle after all. The MBA teaches him a lesson which is not his own. He learned it from others as applied in other contexts and blindly applies it to the fisherman without adaptation or verifying applicability to the case on hand. We are not certain that it isn't actually the MBA who couldn't learn something innovative in his field from the fisherman instead.

When I side with Sarkozy's view and others it is in no way in a "let's wait for the banana to fall" way. Understanding gives us happiness. Do we have to share said understanding for it to have intrinsic value to ourselves? We are not certain, but we'd rather have to say not necessarily. So many inventors and innovators or pioneer scientists have not been recognized by their own time yet have ploughed ahead nonetheless undisturbed.... Their happiness was embedded in their satisfaction with their ability to have fulfilled their own potential, whether the environment surounding them was in resonance (yet) or not.


There are many kinds of happiness. Plus indeed we often cater to what is being measured, so if happiness is measured next, we'll pretend to be happy. We pretend that already.

Yet, if we taxonomize happiness as engaged and disengaged, we are speaking of the engaged one. The disengaged dolce farniente one we are not that much interested in, as it is indeed survival based only and could be low level in Maslow's framework of needs.

We think that innovation makes one happy, and vice-versa, happiness facilitates innovation. From day one of cooking one's food on a fire...

Our problem was with a current lack of alternative valuation.

Knowledge alone (like happiness) even when applied is not properly valued (value for value--see Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged") in our current socio-economic settings. Economists have struggled for quite some time (around the "Big Residual", to use an Abramovic Moses and others' quote) to realize that factors of production are not solely capital and labor, but also knowledge, and that in a larger proportion than either of the other two previously "classic" factors... We think the same can be true anew with _engaged_ happiness, and it is the way we read President Sarkozy.

On the other hand, can we set a value on a significant other's smile at a reunion after a long time being apart from each other? Could said value be replace with the monetary value of the lost work for X employer had the reunion not take place due to more work? As the two talk and visit places (and take pictures) the MMS idea from the blog comes to mind... What is then the relationship between happiness and innovation?

We think President Sarkozy is happy and hence innovative...

Can we trace one good quote which would be well fitted here in justifying why a happy Sarkozy is a better President than an unhappy one?

[I deeply thank my friends who facilitated these questions for their perspective enhancing contributions.]

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