Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Seven Crazy Ideas

It occurred to me that I don’t often share my very different thinking and frankly wacky ideas. I have a lot of ideas – I get paid to have them for my clients – and because they are in the corporate for-profit context I’m not able to talk about them. However, I have ideas about a lot of things, products, the environment, government, services that just come to me from out of the blue. Here are a few I’ve been thinking about lately in no particular order. Feel free to send me “builds” -- that’s what blogs are for.

1. Create a Great American Car

I heard Bill O’Rielly on the radio a couple days ago and he was talking about his personal dilemma of finding a good mileage, decent sized (for a tall man) American car. He said he couldn’t find one. Bill and I agree on this! There aren’t great options out there when you want to buy American. My idea is a simple one and not a new one, but why doesn’t Detroit build a Really Stylish, Great on Mileage (like better than ever before) car. I’m talking about one that gets like 50 MPG and has a Wow appearance. Something like this could turn that whole industry around. Tell me we don’t have the solution to a breakthrough in mileage and I’ll tell you we haven’t tried hard enough. It’s possible and if we do it we lead the world in a new technology, lower our dependence on foreign oil, and do the earth a good turn as well. While I’m at it why don’t I just state for the record that I think the assumption that we can’t manufacture anything here competitively is a load of crap. We can, it’s just a lot harder. Let’s invent a new way to manufacture cars and other heavy equipment. Decentralize? Massive automation? Both?

2. Plant a Billion Trees in 2009

We hear about the deforestation of the Amazon jungle and Madagascar. We hear about global warming and how trees can help offset carbon dioxide pollution. So, let’s do something really good for the earth and plant a billion trees a year. Arbor Day is celebrated in the USA and around the world in various forms but it’s a less-than well coordinated effort. Let’s do something on a much larger scale, which the USA, or some big company could facilitate. Could the UN take this on? I hear the skeptics chirping already, but hey, who could argue that trees are not a good thing? Perhaps we pilot the idea in 2008 in the USA and do a full-world massive planting in 2009. We might couple it with the Olympics or some other event that the world shares. Everybody benefits with more trees on this earth.

3. Thousand Dollar ($1000) “No Car” Tax Credit

There are too many cars on the road. They pollute, they cost a lot to buy and maintain, there’s no place to park, or it costs a bundle. For many people, owning a car is a complete nuisance. How about if we motivate people to use public transportation and walk or bike to work? What I propose is a hefty tax credit for people who don’t own or use a car. Maybe allow a yearly “vacation” exception. To get the credit you’d have to document selling or donating your car to charity. Then you get a $1,000 deduction. It’s good for the environment, it decongests our highways, and it rewards a healthy behavior.

4. Fund a Desalination Breakthrough with a NASA-like Program

Taking the salt out of seawater or brackish water is something we human beings should be getting better at. Why not focus our scientific resources on creating a breakthrough in this area. Do we need to spend all that money getting to Mars? Let’s do something more practical. Right now desalination is expensive, mainly because of the power required to run the pumps in a plant. So, what if we harness wind or solar power and dramatically reduce the cost? In the USA we could solve a very big problem -- the western states are running out of water fast, and need more fresh water. We need a breakthrough, and if we can put a person on the moon why can’t we desalinate seawater cheaply? Really, we need to do this now in order to stay ahead of the fresh water challenge. Many futurists and scientists are predicting drastic fresh water shortages in the next 50 years. Not to give the Saudi’s a great idea, but who has more power, more salt water, and more money? Shouldn’t they go nuts and develop this technology for their own future?

5. The Vagabonds, the Roving Football Team

Nearly all sports team are rooted to a city. The Harlem Globetrotters are the one exception and even they have a spiritual home in, well, Harlem. Many cities and towns don’t have a major sports team as there are only so many franchises and those have homes in top 25 markets. Many teams have tried to lay claim to being “America’s Team” -- what I propose is a Real America’s Team, a team with no permanent home, but would move from small city to small city every year. I’m talking football here, but it could just as easily be basketball, hockey, or baseball. The Vagabonds (my name) would all ride Harley’s into town and set up shop at a local college or municipal stadium for a season. I’m thinking cities like Dayton, Ohio, Austin, Texas, Des Moines, etc would be candidates to host the team. The city doesn’t need to go crazy building a new stadium or any of that expensive big city stuff, they would shoe horn the Vagabonds into existing facilities. The Vags would be low overhead and possibly more profitable due to that and more television exposure (all their games would be on satellite).

6. National Dog Doo System

Okay, this is a gross idea, but let’s do something with all that dog poop. It’s a complete nuisance isn’t it? And it’s an environmental nightmare as well, we bag it up in something that doesn’t biodegrade and it ends up entombed for eternity in a landfill. It’s stupid because it’s actually useful stuff. The idea here is to use all the poo for various things, energy for one, and fertilizer for another. There’s a group in San Francisco already trying this out to create energy (http://abcnews.go.com/US/TenWays/story?id=2128437&page=1) and why does that not surprise me? Fertilizer is a bit trickier as composting dog poop must be done carefully to avoid pathogens, but with the right science it’s totally doable. Somebody could make a lot of money doing this very nasty and disgusting, but smart thing. I for one would pay somebody to take the stuff off my hands – it would be a profit center even before it was converted to energy or fertilizer.

7. Personality Bar/Club

Have you ever noticed that great conversations are not all that easy to come by? We’ve all heard of speed dating and we are all aware of web-based matchmaking. Why not extend matchmaking and good old fashion companionship and conversation to a place where it’s likely to really work out? How about a public venue, a bar or a restaurant, where it’s organized around personality preferences? Where you would be directed towards people with who you are likely to communicate well? When you arrive for the first time you take a standard assessment using a touch screen; then you receive a card with a bar code that contains information about you and your personality type. This could be done with a personality preference measure like the MBTI (otherwise known as “Meyers Briggs” see http://www.myersbriggs.org/ ) . Various assessments could be used. Matches could be set up right away or you could elect to do your own mixing. When you meet someone you could use a tabletop tool and your bar codes to suggest areas of common interest and what might be fun to talk about. There could be a low stimulus introverts room. The club could organize speed dates or mixers of people who are likely to get along.


Penny van der Lith said...

I live in South Africa where one of our most serious environmental problems is the damage done by "Alien Invaders". Not the kind that abduct eccentric Americans with crazy ideas, but the kind that started out as garden plants, or in commercial plantations.

These alien plants are now so out of control in some places that they choke our rivers poison our animals, and are a serious drain on South Africa’s limited water resources. They are a form of “natural” pollution. The environmental imperative of eradicating invader trees like Black Wattle, Eucalyptus, Weeping Willow and Jacaranda from ecologically sensitive areas has spawned a whole industry – unemployed South Africans (and there are hordes of these) are now “recycling” these discarded trees to make everything from compost to garden ornaments to charcoal. (Now that’s innovation!)

So, planting a billion trees is not enough. First, you have to get rid of the trees that damage the environment and then replace them with the kind that provide habitats, prevent soil erosion and generally benefit the local eco-system.

That said, I am now going to liberate my inner lunatic...

How about getting dating services to sponsor the “invader-eradication/tree-planting drives”? This would be a great way for single environmentalists to meet fellow single environmentalists. You could call it “Natural Selection”…

The dog-doo collected by the National Dog-Doo System can be used to fertilize the newly planted trees. A major advantage of using dog poop as a fertilizer is that it will discourage dogs from digging up the trees. Burying it a few centimetres under the surface of the soil eliminates any odour problem. I know this works because digging up my lovingly planted garden was, until implementation of my own Dog-Doo System, my Airedale’s favourite pastime.

The wood from the discarded trees can be used for retro styling the “Great American Car”. I’m thinking wooden inlays on the dashboard, wooden gear-stick knobs …

How about a Tax Credit for planting indigenous trees? Or for installing “grey water” systems?

Roni said...

LOL - re: cars for tall people.

Rick has the same problem - Detroit still can't make a car for men over 6' tall that isn't a huge SUV. I'll swear all design engineers are 5'8".