Greetings from Washington, D.C.
Today would have been my dad Arnie Smolen’s 92nd birthday. And it is so appropriate that, today of all days, TriplePundit published an article on how the organizers of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will furnish their athletes’ dormitories with beds made out of recycled corrugated paper products.
The timing is perfect.
But the timing wasn’t perfect 40 years ago when Arnie tried to market a line of contemporary furniture called Corrugates made out of the same material: recycled triple wall corrugated paper. The product was gossamer light, but tough as steel. And, the manufacturer he was working with at the time, St. Regis Paper, demonstrated in its advertising how a triple-wall corrugated paper bridge could ably support the weight of a two-and-a-half-ton Rolls-Royce upon it. Simply amazing.
1980 was a difficult time in America. Inflation was sky-high and consumers weren’t buying much of the high-quality contemporary furniture that my father sold, because it was so expensive. That’s when Arnie saw the St. Regis ad and started thinking: “what if [we] worked with St. Regis to create a line of furniture made out of their paper product?” Before long, St. Regis finished product prototypes and Arnie hit the road with them to sell his concept. Problem was that, in 1980, none of his retailer customers got it. Almost all said to him: “Arnie, I’ll throw that $#:+ in the trash–with the rest of the shipping cartons–before I put in on the showroom floor.” He was dejected, for sure, but there was no reasoning with home furnishing retailers who didn’t get his vision.
The idea died. I took one of the lounge chair prototypes with me to college. It lasted two full semesters before, it too, ended up in the trash.
Brilliant ideas and timing do not often go hand-in-hand. Most of my big ideas were too futuristic for the then current marketplace; the digital marketing services patent I was issued in 1998 didn’t get serious notice until the mid 2010s. I sold the patent’s master rights to a digital marketing services company in 2005 and used the ample proceeds from the sale to start my recruitment business.
The lesson here is patience. We visionaries must channel our creativity, but know that the universe may take time—years or many years—to be market-ready. I’m so pleased that my dad’s idea is going live in 2020 at the Tokyo games; it is a fitting 92nd birthday gift to him. Yet, I am so disappointed that he didn’t live long enough to see it happen in such a big way.
When we dream big but remain patient, the timing becomes right, eventually. And when that happens, our best days lie ahead.
DAN SMOLEN is founder of The Dan Smolen Experience, LLC. He is also the executive producer and host of The Tightrope Meaningful Work Podcast. Please comment here to let us know how we are doing, and, to offer suggestions for future guests and topics.
Photo credit: Tokyo Olympic Athletes Bedding, TriplePundit; Watch Gears, iStock Photo.