The fallacy of how things work

Have you ever realized that nearly every creative stride, every major innovation, in the history of the world was the result of someone tinkering?

In the early 1970s, IBM released one of the first “personal” computers. Before that, computers were expensive, difficult to work with, and often took up half of a room to calculate simple equations.

Back then the dedicated hobbyist could buy a computer, but that wasn’t enough to do much of anything. There was also the cost of connectors, a teletypewriter, a display (often which incorporated blinking LED lights and nothing more), and other components to even make the machine functional for everyday use.

Then something interesting happened that we should all be able to relate-to in our work as creatives today. Particularly for those of us in businesses that shy away from innovation.

Here’s what happened.

While attending a group meeting of local computer hobbyists in 1975, Steve Wozniak ran home to his garage and began working on a personal computer that would change how the world forever used the machine.

With help from his friend Steve Jobs, the duo would assemble the computer to be almost entirely enclosed in one unit, so rather than having to fiddle with additional components, owners of the machine could simply plug-in a keyboard and an inexpensive CRT TV and have a functioning computer.

The Apple I computer that premiered in 1975 was the first computer in the world that would allow even naive owners to make use of the functions at their fingertips.

But the concept of anyone having a computer was a ridiculous one at the time. In 1977, the then founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olsen, stated: “There is no reason for anyone to have a computer in his home.”

But Jobs and Wozniak believed otherwise, they pressed on with their work and, now some three decades plus later, there are computers in almost every one of our pockets.

If you’re reading this, you’re doing so, in-part, out of the vision of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

But how many people would have the courage and motivation to make that same type of push today?

Particularly in businesses, where “what worked yesterday will work tomorrow” is the go-to mentality, how many of us can say that we’d have enough foresight to see what innovation needs to happen next?

It’s not easy, but it is possible with a simple twist of how we approach our work and the processes around it.

How do we do it? By changing our beliefs around the concept of: this is how it works.

Think about it, back in the 70s it was just common knowledge that computers just worked as a series of confusing and often expensive components that the average person didn’t need to know how to use. Before the first automobile, horse carriages were the primary means of transportation for those who could afford them because that’s just how transportation worked.

What happens is most of us feel content with the way things work. We don’t question it and we certainly don’t explore outside of it.

But before we know it, someone starts questioning. Someone starts poking and prodding, and before we know it “what works” becomes “what worked.”

Microwaves, smart phones, Facebook, the works of Jackson Pollock, are all examples of what can happen when people suddenly realize that the statement: “that’s just how it works” isn’t actually true!

What works is what you’re comfortable with, what will work is what you’re willing to discover by getting away from the norm.

A young entrepreneur named Alex Billington recently wrote a brilliant piece that I think perfectly explains this mentality that we need to embrace deeply as creators and innovators.

Alex writes in his article This is How it Works: This is Not How it Works:

“Stop using ‘this is how it works’ as a defense, or an excuse. Use it as motivation. Use it as a guide for where you should coming from. Use it as a starting point: 'this is how it works today, but this is how we want it to work tomorrow, and this is how we want it to work the next day.’”

This is such a subtle shift in thinking, but the ability to do so not only encourages you to pursue creativity, it forces results.

Steve Jobs spoke on this exact point himself some years ago. We’re fortunate today that the wisdom was recorded and is now available to watch every single day that we need it, right here.