When I take a cab alone (which is not something that happens often), I usually sit up in front with the driver, so that I can chat. I’ve found most cab drivers love chatting, especially if you ask them about themselves. And I’ve heard some very interesting stories from them.
But here’s a good story.
A couple of days ago I was in a cab, and as is my habit, sat up in front and struck a conversation with the cab driver. He asked me about my own work, and I told him a little about my research, and then I asked him about himself. And that got him started on his incredible story.
“I understand how you work”, he said. “I’m an inventor myself, you see.”
Intrigued, I sat up to listen. He needed little prompting.
“I worked for many years for oil and steel companies, in Saudi Arabia, in Africa, all over. I’ve done due diligence or studied manufacturing practices in companies in forty countries. Over the years, it got me and some friends thinking. There’s so much industrial growth in the world, in China, in India, in the Far East. They all need steel, lots of steel. And steel making is amongst the most polluting industries in the world. Iron’s easy to get, but mining’s harsh, and making iron in to steel’s really polluting. So I thought the answer to all this is silica glass fiber. Silica’s the second most common substance on earth, you can get it anywhere. And so we took out a patent for some technology to make these fibers. It’s as hard as steel, as strong as steel, lasts longer, and is easier to make.”
“But we know it’s not going to be easy to launch it in the States, or in a big market, to make something mainstream, like cars. But I have it all figured out. We’ll make specialized boats, and we won’t do it in the States.”
“We’ll do it in Africa. Most of that continent is a mess, but Ghana, it’s stable, and safe, and you can do business there. I’ve been there a dozen times on work myself.”
And I sat back and remembered a little phrase from what I think is the best book written on globalization, Tom Friedman’s The lexus and the olive tree, where he said the thing that made America is the fact that this country has amongst the lowest barriers to entry in the world, and anyone with an idea, good or bad, can run with it, and find some one to fund that idea, and then try to sell it. You don’t need to push paperwork for years, you don’t need to bribe any one, you don’t need a thousand middlemen, and you can just do something you dream about.
You might fail, but you can still try, and you’ll never say it didn’t happen. And that, to me, is the greatest thing that can happen to any nation.