Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I want to take a break from trying to figure out the Cargo Cult world and think about something that has worked. This is Harry. He began playing guitar and singing songs for people down on Venice Beach back in 1973. Some people think of him as strange. But if you were to look at his life on paper you would find a stable successful American businessman. He's had the same job since 1973, he leads a healthy lifestyle and he shows up to work everyday. He has no boss, just the hassles of everyday busking on the beach.
As a philosopher, I don't pass judgment on whether or not Harry is an odd fellow. Personally, I like to think about Harry happily blading up and down the boardwalk while I suffer through days of bad science and endless meaningless meetings at multimillion dollar mistakes with sciency names. I do judge cargo cults. Harry is not participating in a cargo cult. He plays you a song and asks you to buy a CD, a shirt or both. Twenty bucks for both. While he plays you can take as many pictures as you like. He has branded himself. He brings his product right to you and you can take it or leave it.
As a biotech employee I have never actually worked at a company that has sold a product. We've brought in millions of dollars but we've never turned that money into a profitable company or product. The only remaining company that I've worked for that hasn't folded is one that makes the claim (among many odd claims) of growing their drug in a more efficient way than the rest of the industry. The claim is false. In fact I don't know of a group of people who know less about the actual manufacturing of such a drug. It seems to me that they took the truth and simply said the opposite. If my experience has taught me anything however, this company will fail. You can only BS for so long.
As I contemplate the future, mine and the cargo cult airports, I can't help but think of Harry. He's outlived 100 billion dollars in biotech waste and hundreds of companies staffed and ran by the brightest minds of our life science scholars. His music isn't the best. He just rolls up to people and plays them a song and asks them to buy a T-shirt. At night he goes for a jog up the coast of that beautiful beach as the sun sets over the hills of Malibu to the north. His future will be to keep on doing his thing til old age takes him out of the game. Our industry will try to get him to hand over some life savings for the pills we make for old people with two months to live, our primary target. But I think Harry will die quick with only a little pain and no regrets.