The following is an interview with Larry Lawhead, as interviewed by Nathalie Lawhead. This is the first of an ongoing video series. Unfortunately the video for this particular one did not turn out. Nevertheless, the subject matter is noteworthy of a post.
Larry: I’ve been thinking a lot this week about innovation, and how it causes economies to grow, and how innovation often starts at a high level with a certain philosophy, or a certain political group, or a certain philosophy often takes hold of a certain group of people… Often times when this first starts there’s this huge push of innovation.
You see in the early church, as the Roman empire was crumbling, these people that called themselves Christian came up with a social structure that incorporated a lot of benefits and support for people in the culture that was falling apart… It wasn’t unusual clans took care of each-other a lot back then, a lot, and eons before this time people that didn’t belong to the clan… they weren’t related physically they where taking in people, taking care of them, people where selling their property, they had almost this communism type thing going, and you saw that it had a huge impact on society.
And then when Islam became popular, at first, you saw a huge advance in Science and Math, and all kinds of ideas, and people where generous and supporting each-other, and created quite an interesting movement throughout the Middle East.
Then you see Communism when it first started out in Russia, for example. People where highly motivated, and they worked hard and they accomplished a lot in a short period of time.
Throughout all these examples, and you can go on and on and on, with examples like this, a turn somehow occurred when you saw these innovative lifestyles, innovative approaches, innovative economic approaches beginning to crumble. The question is why?
I think it’s because people stopped focusing on the philosophy itself, and the benefit it was bringing to society, and focused more on being orthodox.
You know 300 AD, or so, Christianity tried to nail down their orthodoxy, of course in the years prior to that too… The coming of Augustine he started to solidify Christian theology, and then you had the same thing happen to Muslims… The same thing happened to Communism, the whole thing got very corrupt, and the more corrupt it got, the less motivated the people where, and the less motivated they where, the less motivated they worked, and then they started working for themselves instead of for the community… and the whole thing just went bankrupt.
So we look at ourselves, you know, TODAY, and you look at about the last 200 years of American history, fairly young country, amazing…. innovative approach to economy… We took Adam Smith’s idea of Capitalism and we’ve blended it in with other ideas, and we’ve tried to create an environment in this country where we could be… innovators… where the idea was “Let’s go to America, by golly!”, because, if you’ve got a good idea, and with a little luck you can really support yourself, if not become financially fairly successful.
And… What happened to that?
Again you look at the early part of the 18th 19th century, the automobile was off course around, and people where playing with it. Blacksmiths where creating their own little versions of automobiles, but then you had Henry Ford come around and he had a vision of *smiles* basically putting a car in every barn… because people didn’t own garages at the time… I don’t know how he articulated his vision, but the idea was that he wanted to make a car so that the “ordinary man” could afford it.
Then, in the latter part of the 20th century, you had Bill Gates with the desktop computer thing… We can make this PC thing really go, and he pursued that vision. And look what happened.
Then you had the advent of the internet. I remember people talking about the internet, when it first became popular, and there where many futurists (can’t remember the names of the people I read at the time) they thought that the internet is “interesting” for exchanging information, but you’ll never make a living on it. You can’t “grow an economy” with the internet… Today we would not even remotely imagine having an economy without having a strong “internet presence”.
Nathalie: I remember people saying how crazy that was, and that there’s not future in it, and they where sooo against it. Basically; “the internet is a niche that will soon perish.”
Larry: Yeah, you’ll never make money on the internet. The internet will only always be a means of communicating, and look at today. You’ve got Amazon, Google advertising came out of nowhere. You’ve got all this amazing innovation that brought about lots of jobs, and it’s drawing the economy.
So where are we today?
Well, let’s take a quick look at it.
We are focusing more on orthodoxy today than we are on innovation, and new thoughts.
Nathalie: How it should be done instead of how it could be done.
Larry: Yeah. How it should be done instead of how it could be done. We’ve got… um… let me take a step back and just go off on a tangent… it’s not actually, it’s very much of a foundation to this thinking I’ve been doing, but you see you have an evolution that’s kind of been taking place in the press.
It’s very high level, and it’s not exactly accurate either. I have to say that in all fairness, if I wanted to just be real genuine and hustle through this really quick…
You’d see that the press was more or less reporting news. The guy lost his horse, the guy found the horse, guy’s happy, we’re all good people… You know. So, reporting is “what happened”, “tell me what happened”, and so we printed what happened and let the people read it.
Nathalie: And let the people decide their opinions on what happened.
Larry: Yeah, and I’ll let YOU decide if that even has any moral value, or good value, or bad value, or indifferent value. But then we got into the idea of we could ‘up the bar’ by creating news.
So you got now, a guy who steals a car in Los Angeles (and it’s not uncommon that cars get stolen in Los Angeles, or any other country, or city in the United States), but all of a sudden you’ve got five, or six different helicopters following this thing, and making an event out of it.
So you create news.
Nathalie: Yeah, like it’s a circus now instead of reality.
Larry: Yeah, it becomes an entertainment event.
Nathalie: News is reality TV, in a way.
Larry: Yeah, news has become basically, just TV news from reality. It’s another reality show, basically.
But we went from reporting the news, to creating the news, to now creating controversy, and that controversy is making us very rich… making those in the media industry very rich.
Nathalie: There’s an empire built on that.
Larry: Exactly. There’s an entire media empire built today on creating and maintaining controversy.
Nathalie: Remember when bloging became hot, and news online grew, that was a major controversy, and provoked their standing of power. These people hated that, and it really ‘hurt the news a lot’ because people where able to form their own news, and opinions again.
Larry: Yeah, report their own events, and interpret their own events the way they felt about those events.
Nathalie: Like the Iraqi blogs.
Larry: Yeah, exactly. The Iraqi blogs are a great example, and I think that’s the reason why people… and network news, across the board, has lost popularity. Because they’re following an idea of creating controversy, feeding that controversy, and making billions of dollars on that controversy.
Now, lets get back to our innovation idea. What has controversy done in the United States?
It’s tried to put every man, woman, and child, in two categories.
You’re either conservative, which is good, or you’re liberal, which is bad… Or conservative, which is bad, and liberal, which is good.
Nathalie: It’s basically a baseball game.
Larry: It is! It’s not only that, but if you can maintain that controversy, you can maintain your profit margins.
As long as you feed that controversy into the machine, you’re going to be doing just fine financially as a media company.
Now… What was it that I said, that I believe, was something that reduced the influence of Christianity, on Islam, and Communism… You can take anything you want! I don’t care. I just happened to out of the blue, take three examples…
It was orthodoxy, wasn’t it? “We have to do it right!” We have to concentrate on “being right”. Rather than on being innovative, being dynamic.
Nathalie: Innovation is lost in the greedy aspects of business, instead of the positive aspects of business.
Larry: That’s right. Lets look at the middle ages, for example, and what we know about the middle ages. If you came up with a good idea, or scientific (stay with what we know popularly)… If there was a scientific “idea”, some experimenters happened to think that maybe the Earth was NOT the center of the universe, you could hardly even want to mention it. Why? You’ll probably be burnt at the stake. Your families thrown in prison, or all kinds of bad things… So that pressure just made people say “it’s not worth the effort”, “it’s not worth the risk”… Innovation now becomes a risky proposition. Why? Because you can’t be innovative, and orthodox at the same time… or much of the time.
Let’s take a look at the internet again. If orthodoxy said, at the time, that you can’t make money on the internet so don’t, then Amazon would have just said “forget it, we’re not going to do this.”
Nathalie: We would have lost a major milestone in human history, and cultural evolution.
Larry: Exactly. It’s like giving birth to something. It’s going to be painful. It’s going to be unorthodox. Unexpected things are always going to happen, and you won’t be able to categorize everything that happens.
Amazon was not making money for the longest period of time. I remember when the dot-com crash occurred the big question was if they would make it.
Nathalie: They nearly didn’t survive, yeah…
Larry: Amazon wasn’t going to survive, and they made some smart business decisions… Some would say they where rude, and all kinds of bad things, maybe, but the whole point is that they are here today, and they are a cornerstone of our online economy. Some would argue a cornerstone of our retailing economy, period.
Nathalie: Wasn’t Google the same? What money is there in search? That was laughed at.
Larry: It was the same freaking way. What money is there in search? …And all of a sudden you become some kind of…
Nathalie: *Laughs* Now it’s part of conspiracy theories it’s that big.
Larry: *Laughs* And not only that it’s just a great way of getting your message out as an advertiser. So… Innovation thrives in an unorthodox environment. Innovation dies in an orthodox environment.
I’ll say that again, because I believe it very very strongly. Innovation thrives in an unorthodox environment. …And innovation dies in an orthodox environment. The more orthodox we become, the less innovative we will be.
Nathalie: Some people would call the words “liberal” and “conservative” but then again being “liberal” is also orthodox. Same as anarchist groups are very orthodox about being anarchist…
Larry: Yeah… Orthodox about being an anarchist. That’s the most amazing thing. What’s that supposed to mean?
…So. The point is, I believe, and I have a lot of hope. I’m not some kind of super pessimist, but in a certain sense, we are as a country here, in the united states, kind of at the crossroads… Insofar as we have to give up this controversy. We have to give up our orthodoxy if we want to stay competitive. See it’s no longer just a couple countries competing in being innovative, it’s every freaking everybody being innovative.
Why? Because we all have access to the internet. We all have access to resources that 20, 30, years ago you had to be specialist to have.
Nathalie: And we can make our ideas work faster than ever.
Larry: Yeah. You would have had to be a specialist to be able to get the most fundamental stuff that you can get on the internet. So… The point is, innovation is going to surge forward, with, or without us, as a country. And we can either be part of it, or we can just watch it happen, and become poor and more frustrated, and possibly more violent.
Nathalie: Violence comes with the poverty level…
Larry: They are becoming more innovative than we are! Let’s go over there and take their country over! “Taking over a country”. It’s an interesting concept… but it’s beside the point…
The whole idea is that if we want to stay competitive in an innovative world, we have to be competitive. For us to be competitive, we have to sacrifice, or give up our orthodoxy. We’re going to have to let people be conservative, we’re going to have to let people be liberal, and we’re going to have to allow a mix to take place.
I believe we have to stop this nonsense.
This cultural war that we’ve fabricated.
Nathalie: Cultural baseball game.
Larry: Exactly. This artificial war… Artificial cultural war that we’ve created just to make money. We’re going to have to give it up, or loose the country that we love so much. I’m convinced of that.
Nathalie: Or the country is just plane old going to change to being something unrecognizable… just a 3rd world country… or 2nd world country, sorry, 3rd world is a bit extreme…
Larry: Just a bunch of uneducated hicks, and we don’t need to be that.
…So we give up this nonsense. This, I believe, artificially created cultural war, and we give that fear of being unorthodox up, we will once again be the innovative country that we always have been.
Just one more example… Because we don’t want to keep this going too long, but just one example… Take ‘alternative energy’.
Oh God! I can’t even talk about alternative energy because it’s “them damn liberals up to something”… we got plenty of oil for this… we got plenty of natural gas for that… Now any moron, that has any kind of brain at all, can see one thing; oil prices continue to go up.
Now, I don’t care if you believe that there’s global warming or not, that’s all beside the point… The fact is there’s money… lots of money! In creating cars that get really good gas mileage.
In the United States we’re arguing… right, the government wanted to mandate the 50 mile a gallon goal… for.. until year x (or whatever) and so the automobile industry (which we just bailed out recently), basically said “No, are you kidding? Absolutely not.” In other countries, they’re talking not just about 50 miles a gallon… though they’ve got 30 miles a gallon already, they’ve got 40 miles to the gallon… they’re talking about 50? Oh no. They’re also talking about 60-70 miles a gallon. To building more efficient engines.
So where does that leave our automobile industry?
Listen, when the gas prices are $7 dollars a gallon, I’m going to buy a freaking car that gets 70 miles a gallon, whether it’s made by an idiot in Antarctica… A penguin in Antarctica… I don’t care where it comes from, I’m going to drive the freaking thing because $7 a gallon, is $7 a gallon. That’s just the facts of it.
So instead of being innovative like we ought to be, we’re fighting over if we SHOULD do it, instead of doing it.
Nathalie: It’s a militant orthodoxy that’s just damaging the economy, or financial situation of anything at that point, because people are so afraid of stepping out of their ‘belief box’ that it blinds them in the way they see things, at that point.
Larry: Yeah. I’m too worried about loosing my proper category in society. Being the, say, ‘conservative’ that I am, IF I wanted to promote, create, or develop an engine that gets 70 miles a gallon. I’m all of a sudden going to be placed in a category that you can brush off with a label… people are going to call me “Mr. conservative… green-peace freak” or something.
Nathalie: The “happy hippy” or whatever.
Larry: And that’s not the point. The point is that you can make money on that type of engine. You can make money on enormously efficient solar cells. Somebody is going to, one of these days, make that break through, and it won’t be American, and their economy is going to make the money off of it… And what are we going to be doing? We’re going to be saying “Umm… well… I didn’t want to be one of ‘dem ‘dere liberals”.
Nathalie: At that point you’re just going to have all the intellectuals move out of the country, and go somewhere else. I mean, that’s what they did in communist countries.
Larry: Exactly. All the people left that had any good ideas at all, because they couldn’t say what they wanted to without endangering themselves.
Nathalie: Yeah. You’d loose your family. You’d have to have people smuggle you out. I mean… We experienced that first hand. [Yugoslavia, etc…]
Larry: An innovative thinker in the Soviet Union… You’d have to leave the freaking country to get bye.
Nathalie: Wouldn’t you say the same… “civil unhappiness” about the state of the country and government is about the same, or identical, to that of how Communist countries where before they broke down?
Larry: Yeah… again. Let’s not just talk about communism. You can talk about any philosophy you want.
Nathalie: …The same as Muslims, or Christians…
Larry: The same thing. If you’re worried about your orthodoxy you’re not going to be as innovative as you HAVE to be. Again, our world’s so freaking competitive that the train is not going to slow down.
Nathalie: Because of the internet, things are moving so fast that you really have to loose the orthodoxy… Would you say that countries more based on, or more focused on orthodoxy are also more militant?
Nathalie: Yeah, because they have to be. They have to conquer to get their innovation (same would go for economic related structures, such as businesses – bullying a merger over creation).
Larry: That’s right. You go ‘beat up somebody and steal it from them’… and that’s just not right.
Nathalie: Same as oil. Instead of finding alternative energies we have war to maintain the oil economy.
Larry: And why? Why do that? We can make a break through in solar energy… I’m convinced of it…
Nathalie: We can make a break through in just about anything. Entertainment, schooling, medicine…
Larry: That’s right. If we hang on to our orthodoxy, we build our ideas and new technologies based on old fundamentals we’re not going to be competitive. Somebody else will have all those patent, all those jobs, and their economy is going to continue to grow while we’re sitting here feeling good about ourselves remembering the good old days… Man you guys. We’ve got resources here that hardly any other country in the world has and we’re sitting here fighting “who’s conservative, and who’s liberal”… and all the opportunities are just flying right past us.
We should have the fastest high speed train in the world. Why not?
Nathalie: We don’t because we laugh at our innovators instead of listening to them. There’s certain stigmatized keywords people “think through”… if you say “clean energy” suddenly you’re a hippy. If you say “world peace”… or just about anything. You’re an anarchist, you’re a hippy, you’re a this, you’re a that… You hate working… you’re not fit for this position based on your inability to wear lipstick…
Larry: Exactly. If I’m a good innovator I come up with good ideas, and maybe from 10 one of them hits, but at least one of them hit.
Nathalie: Yeah! And when they ‘hit’ they do ‘hit’.
Larry: Now it’s an American *idea* helping the American economy.
Some would argue that you have to get rid of borders and say ‘it’s’ a “world idea”. Fine with me! The whole point is you want jobs for this country you’ve got to have the innovation here.
Nathalie: You make a better world by making a better country to begin with.
Larry: Exactly. If your country is a better country, the world is going to be a better world. If you want to have a better city then you have to have a better family. If you want a better family then you’d better be a better person yourself.
It all boils down to the individual, and the whole point I’m trying to make in this little chat here is the fact that our orthodoxy destroys, and has throughout history, destroyed innovation.
And in unorthodox environments you find the most innovation. The Renaissance is a great example.
Nathalie: Yes. Or the Muslim’s had their own Renaissance that influenced the western Renaissance. I mean, you see that innovation inspires innovation in other countries.
Larry: It has a positive spiral effect.
Nathalie: It’s the freedom of thought, and accepting the innovation and not holding onto the orthodoxy that stimulates Renaissance environments.
…So, in a way, this country is ready for another Renaissance if it could just embrace it.
Larry: I am absolutely convinced of it. We have the intellectual energy, and (I would say) if we got rid of our cultural wars here, we would have the motivation, and the energy to do it.
Nathalie: Would you say that a level of orthodoxy is important, or is it a complete “waste of time”?
Larry: It’s an interesting question. I think orthodoxy, in itself, is not a bad thing.
Nathalie: Because it keeps a balance in place.
Larry: Yes. But it’s MY belief. I, personally, have to have some kind of foundation in my life. We used to call these presuppositions. We have to presuppose a whole set of things to be true, in order for me to be just a balance individual, but if all of a sudden I’m going to impose, upon you, my set of presuppositions saying; listen, if you don’t believe the way I do, you’re a… something or another… or you’re in ‘big trouble’, or I’ll beat you up, or I’ll burn you at the stake, or I’ll hang you…
Nathalie: You have trouble socially because you fall into a set of categories that trigger a prejudiced reaction and receive “cultural punishment” based on what you’ve triggered.
Larry: Precisely. Everybody has a right to, individually, stand on a firm foundation that they’ve developed on their own. You need a set of beliefs. Every family has one. That’s good, and healthy…
Nathalie: But some would say that you’re just inspiring anarchist thinking here because without a universal core set of ideas you’d have people “doing whatever they want”… Or do you think people can keep themselves “in check”? I mean, it’s a silly question to believe they can’t, but…
Larry: I think if given the right environments people CAN keep themselves in check.
Nathalie: Yeah, because poverty causes, again, crime not positive and proactive environments.
Larry: Exactly. If you’re busy making money you’re not going to be busy stealing stuff from people because there’s too much riding on that. If you’ve got nothing to loose, you’ve got nothing to loose, and that means anything you do is a game… but if you’ve got a good strong economic environment where you have opportunity to screw up by doing something flamingly stupid… like… rob somebody, why would you want to do that?
Nathalie: Why would you even care?
Larry: You’ve got way to much going on. You’ll loose everything by just being stupid. So don’t do it.
So being orthodox, in your own way, is necessary. You just have a set of values to go by. That’s true.
Nathalie: But orthodoxy becomes destructive as soon as you impose that on someone else… or hold onto personal beliefs too tightly because change is necessary to have innovation, even in your life.
Larry: Yes. I enjoy discussing subjects with people who’s views are in no way similar to my own, because I like being beat up philosophically, because I think that makes a stronger person. It makes the foundation to my life much stronger. So that’s always a good thing.
But again, orthodoxy, when it becomes institutionalized, or generalized, and imposed by society, as it has been here in this country, through our cultural war between conservative and liberal…
Nathalie: Just the general historic setup…
Larry: It’s messing us up big time. My view of the future, if you will, is one where we have a good set of orthodoxy, personally, but we are freely changeling unorthodoxy in society… If we can get back to that place… Where we have knuckleheads like Tesla coming up with all kinds of unbelievable theories, but, instead of going generally ignored, they hit with a “bang”! And we embrace that innovation…
Nathalie: Yeah, and then they wouldn’t have to die in a hotel room, generally unknown, undervalued, and decades later we dig up their work and think they where smart.
Larry: *Smiles* Decades later we dig up their papers, and decide we needed them… So… Lets do it now. There’s no reason why we can’t.