The human condition is a complicated one, but on the surface it can be explained rather simply in at least some ways. If you have thousands of dollars most will want hundreds of thousands. If you have hundreds of thousands you want millions of dollars, if you have millions you want billions. With this firmly in mind, it seems to me that what makes the business world go ’round, including the innovation and tech space, are the 7 deadly sins, or at least 6 of them.
The 7 deadly sins are lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, greed, anger and pride. In business, these deadly sins are not particularly a negative, at least when moderated or channeled constructively, and I dare say that anyone successful in the business world relies on a number of these so-called deadly sins, either consciously or subconsciously, in order to motivate themselves to achieve more.
With no further ado, I shall visit these deadly sins and elaborate.
According to Dictionary.com, one definition of lust is “ .”
Certainly this term has a sexual connotation, but the previous definition, at least generally speaking, probably best captures the general meaning of the term as it can be used to encompass multiple diverse meanings. Like so many of the 7 deadly sins, if you do not have a requisite amount of lust you are simply not going to succeed in business, and perhaps not in life either.
For example, professionals, whether lawyers, doctors or individuals with an MBA or PhD, have denied themselves for many years while in school and then again while putting in the necessary “grunt” work early on in their professions. By and large, when others were out partying and making merry choices were made to stay the course. Sure it would have been fun to go out drinking, stay up late, leave the office early, but desire to succeed took control over instant gratification. The same can be said for those in business. What makes someone start their own business and want to work 12, 14, 16, 18 or more hours a day? Without passion and an overmastering desire businesses would not be started, inventors would not invent and professionals wouldn’t stay in school long enough to acquire necessary skills.
According to Dictionary.com, one definition of envy is “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions.” While this perhaps should not be a motivating factor, who among us can really say that we have never been motivated by envy? Perhaps not envy in the traditional sense, but have you ever wondered how or why you work so hard and someone you know who maybe works just as hard, or maybe even less, is doing better than you? I suspect if we are all honest with ourselves most would admit that, at least privately to themselves. So envy isn’t always bad, and can cause one to engage in self-reflection, re-evaluation and cause positive life changes moving forward.
Of course, envy, is not always constructive, but when someone is motivated to start their own business instead of playing it safe and collecting a pay check, envy can be an important motivating force. While working for yourself comes with a number of challenges, if you need to take off in the middle of the day, or want to just spend time with family or go to a day game at the ballpark, you have a lot more freedom to do that. Of course, you will likely need to work longer and harder to make up for it, but you have that ability.
On another, perhaps unrelated level, envy is central to innovation. For years, perhaps throughout all modern times, those who sell gadgets, whatever the gadget of the day, rely upon envy as a marketing tool. When Apple comes out with their latest and greatest whatever it is, whether an iPod, iPhone, iMac or iPad the best sales force are happy customers who make their friends and family jealous. In the innovation space stoking the fire of keeping up with friends and family, or at least enjoying the latest and greatest for yourself, is what continually works to push the envelope of innovation forward.
Of course, patents that act as roadblocks to copycats, forcing copycats to seek paradigm shifting advancement that would not infringe, also pushes the envelope of innovation forward. That is why strong patent rights are absolutely essential to innovation, particularly paradigm shifting innovation. Without strong patents what happens is copycats simply copy rather than innovating, which is probably one big reason why smartphones (for example) have stagnated, but I digress.
Gluttony and Greed
According to Dictionary.com the definition of gluttony is “excessive eating and drinking.” While one can really only excessively eat and drink if they have the required funds to do so, allow me to take a slight liberty here and focus on the “excess” part of the definition. In so doing this then spills over into greed. Dictionary.com defines greed as “excessive or rapacious desire, esp. for wealth or possessions.” The constant and overriding need for more is what drives successful people to continue to move forward. In many of my older articles I would enthusiastically proclaim, as did Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street, “greed is good!”
We all remember the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who was the principal character in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol. He was greedy to excess, at least until near the very end. Greed to excess and for no particular reason or benefit is not something to be admired, but it is impossible to recognize that in the innovation world without greed there would be far fewer innovations, particularly those innovations that we desire the most, such as life saving technologies and drugs. Why would millionaires and billionaires form and/or invest in an upstart biotechnology company investigating potential cures for cancer? Why would a pharmaceutical company spend $5 billion or more to bring a drug to market that might, and most likely will, flop? The answer as far as I can tell is straight out greed.
Begrudging the success of greedy millionaires and billionaires is, insofar as I can tell, recklessly stupid. I have had conversations with anti-patent crowd in the past and those who seem truly committed to the cause seem to tend toward the socialist viewpoint. I have been told that if the minute a life saving drug exists it is not available to everyone in the world for free, or at whatever nominal cost they can afford, it is immoral. Some have even said that they would rather not have any life saving drugs for anyone if it means that a single person is denied the drug. That is just stupid, and it ignores the fact that pharmaceuticals enjoy about 10 years of exclusivity before drugs become available for practically nothing in generic forms. After the patent expires the drugs cost very little and from that point forward billions of people can benefit, which will happen if and only if there is a limited window of exclusivity.
Greed is a funny thing. Those who want everything right now for free are clearly greedy, and that greed does no good whatsoever, just like the greed of Ebenezer Scrooge. On the other hand, the greed of the so-called “fat cats” certainly puts money in their pocket but also leaves for generations to come life saving drugs. Greed is not a bad thing at all in the patent and innovation world and to acquire more of the innovations we say we want we need to prey upon the “greed gene” that resides in all successful people. To do this we should consider doing away with the one-size-fits-all patent term and encourage more of what we want with longer patent terms and perhaps shorten patent terms elsewhere in situations were 20 years makes no technological sense.
According to Dictionary.com the definition of sloth is “habitual disinclination to exertion; indolence; laziness.” At first glance this may seem to be a trait that is not helpful in business, and perhaps that is true. Sloth, however, is a trait that is extremely helpful for an inventor to have, at least in appropriate moderation. Creative people, such as inventors, who are disinclined to exertion are always looking for faster, easier and less complicated ways to accomplish a task, and that searching for the easy way out leads to many wonderful inventions. Indeed, inventors are the laziest people in the world (tongue in cheek) – they will see a task that is performed repeatedly that can be done marginally quicker and spend months, or years, in search of a solution to save a few seconds.
For example, can anyone remember life without a microwave oven? How about life without a washing machine and dryer? These are but two examples of time saving inventions that make things easier. Making everyday tasks easier is an almost sure way to success as an inventor, unless of course the solution is more complicated than the task it seeks to replace. Convenience sells, motivates the buying public and motivates a great many successful inventors.
According to Dictionary.com one definition for anger is “a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong.” I am not advocating anger, but the reality is in business, including the business of innovation, there are a great many competitions going on at any given time. For virtually every big ticket desired solution there are many chasing the solution. In the patent world, unlike the copyright world, there will be only one winner. We do not give the same patent rights to multiple people, but rather to one winner. In the copyright world, where group hugging runs supreme, we reward independent creation and share and share alike. We also have to live with fair use rights, including copying that is transformative. In the patent world there is a single patent right, which is given to a single innovator, period! Business is difficult, inventors and scientists move from company to company, and in the chase to be that one winner there are hard feelings, betrayals and wrongs that deserve to be redressed.
The anti-patent crowd always talks about how a patent given to only one innovator blocks others and ends the march of innovation. The truth is it ends the march of copying, and can end a particular individual or business from marching forward if they become lazy or satisfied with second place, which in the patent world might as well be last place. Channeling displeasure and frustration and redirecting it to advancement of the core technology or discovering a paradigm shifting technology is what turns the second (or last) place finisher into a victor in the next round.
The truth is the business of innovation is like a boxing match that never ends. Just because you lose a round doesn’t mean you should give up, and if you do the likelihood that you would have succeeded ultimately is not very high anyway. Determination and persistence are rewarded in business and in innovation, and a healthy amount of displeasure that drives you forward and forces you not to be content is essential.
Refusing to be blocked is precisely why patents force the quicker march of innovation.
According to Dictionary.com, one definition of pride is “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority…” If you ask me, that is really a bad definition, and probably a better definition of arrogance. In fact, most of the definitions of pride seem to miss the mark, although this one is, in my opinion, the most accurate definition: “the state or feeling of being proud.”
Since when did being proud become evil or bad? I can see why being arrogant is considered bad, but being proud of ones accomplishments seems natural. Being proud of the accomplishments of another you care about is, likewise, natural and rather expected.
Simply stated, if you do not take pride in your work what sense does it make to produce the work in the first place? If you are not proud to have your name associated with your work product then how can you look yourself in the mirror at the start of every new day? Unjustified pride is not helpful, but being proud is hardly negative. If you work hard and can be proud of what you have accomplished you obviously care. It also means you strive for success and excellence. In fact, the truth is that the lack of pride (i.e., being unsatisfied with performance or work product) is often what drives many people to succeed.
Furthermore, a lack of pride in work product results in complacency, which is the beginning of the end for any business. Indeed, fat, happy, comfortable, and complacent are not terms often associated with long term success.
If you ask me, the 7 deadly sins are not very deadly at all, at least with appropriate focus. Like pretty much everything in life, excess is bad and moderation is just fine. The 7 deadly sins in moderation and channeled properly are what leads successful people in the innovation space to be successful. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!