Friday, January 20, 2012

What is the Big Idea?

The title of "genius" might be bestowed upon a person with incredible intellect. Some might speak of a genius as a creator, someone who develops something from nothing, such as a great artist or musical performer. Still others may consider the great visionary whose talent is foreseeing the world five, ten or twenty years from now, a genius.

Regardless of your definition of term "genius", there is one common trait among all geniuses...phenomenal focus and internal drive to make themselves (and perhaps the world) better.

Such a man was Steve Jobs.

For Christmas, this past December, I was presented with a copy of his authorized biography.  The book was a good glimpse into Steve Jobs the visionary and Steve Jobs the person.

I must confess only recently, after years of spurning Apple products, I am now a convert. I so enjoy my iPhone and iPod.  They make my life more productive and enjoyable.
Steve Jobs, the visionary, is responsible for changing the world. He was responsible, in part or in whole, for creating and/or developing: 

  • One of the first and all-time best-selling desktop personal computer - Apple II.
  • The Macintosh computer using the first graphical mouse driven computer operating system. (although he actually stole or "borrowed" the idea from Xerox).
  • Pixar Studios (although he originally bought Pixar for their hardware and software not their ability to create ground-breaking animation - rather it was John Lasseter who was in charge of creating content such as Toy Story).
  • The Apple IPod - allowing people to store and play up to 1000 songs on a portable device.
  • iTunes - Giving consumers the opportunity to legally download individual songs to their portable music device.
  • The Apple Store - a revolutionary retail store, completing the total vertically integration of design, manufacturing, and distribution of all Apple products.
  • Tunes store - creating the first digital hub that connects all personal computing devices in one place.
  • The iPhone - creating the first truly integrated "smart" phone using apps to drive content.
  • The iPad - The first commercially successful tablet computing device.
As much as I am a fan of Steve Jobs the technology guru, I am in no way a fan of Steve Jobs, the person. He had an intense focus in building Apple that didn’t allow for failure. It is widely reported that he spent a great deal of his life ignoring his family, sometimes not seeing his oldest daughter for years at a time.

He took joy in publicly berating employees and subordinates. Jobs selfishly refused to share development credit with others who were also instrumental and essential in creating much of Apple’s success.  He was ruthless in his persuit of the next big idea, couldn’t stand incompetence and was impatient with others (even his peers).

He tended to see the world in a binary manner where all people were lumped into two categories: awesome or idiots. All products were either amazing or crap. There were no shades of grey for Steve Jobs.

Nonetheless, Steve Jobs was a truly visionary who had the uncanny ability to make observations, find a significant void, and develop a clear path in creating a product or service to remedy the situation. It was never about the was about creating incredible life-altering products. This one man’s existence has altered the way the entire planet lives.

I was recently on a long solo bike ride and had the opportunity to reflect upon the accomplishments in my own life. I have never been considered a genius or a visionary. I am at peace with that assessment.

As I rode a bit further, I began thinking about problems that face the world today and what are the opportunities to make a huge and lasting difference on a global scale.  Maybe perhaps in the same way Steve Jobs may have thought.

After a few hours of thinking, I came up with two great world problems (opportunities) that if they could be solved, would effectively change the lives of millions of people. Now I don’t have many of the answers to overcoming the technology and/or geo-political barriers, but it’s early in the process and the project has really only just begun.

Today, I wanted to share one of those ideas with you. Who knows, perhaps you might have some great ideas or thoughts of your own that you may want to add to the discussion. I believe that there many untapped creative minds out there who may just need an idea to focus upon.

Here is that idea.

It concerns the most basic and abundant molecule found on the planet....water.

Although 2/3 of the earth’s surface is covered in water, sea water is not drinkable due to the high concentration of salt (on average about 3.5%). In most places around the globe (outside North America and Western Europe), clean fresh water is scarce. Diseases such as cholera, E- coli, dysentery and typhoid are transmitted through poor water supplies and kill millions of people each year.

Sea water can be desalinated using a distillation process (turning the water into steam and then cooling the steam to create fresh water). A great amount of energy is needed to complete the distillation process...however this may be a community’s only way to create potable water for its citizens.

In order to create economies of scale, desalination facilities are large public works projects built and controlled by government or quasi-government agencies. These desalination plants are expensive to build and expensive to operate, many due to the energy needed to complete the process.

My idea then is to develop a small-scale low-cost distillation machine that could perhaps use solar technology to produce a few gallons of clean water each day from dirty or sea water. Think of it as a personal water machine.

Sound impossible?

Prior to the first personal computer being built in 1976, computers were extremely large main-frame machines built and operated by governmental or quasi-government agencies. They were large, extremely expensive to build and to operate, and required a great amount of electrical power and cooling.

Thanks to visionaries, like Steve Jobs, we now have powerful personal computing devices that fit into our shirt pockets. Today’s portable computers function as a phone, a music player, an internet portal, a gaming device, a digital camera, and GPS.

I’m not really sure where the idea of a "personal water machine" will go...

...but perhaps it’s a big idea worthy of some consideration.

Any thoughts?

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we understand that big ideas make the world a better place to live for all of us.

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