Ralph Waldo Emerson sounded the rallying cry for innovators: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” To the sorrow of many who developed their own form of a better mousetrap, it usually does not work out that way—certainly not as smoothly as they expected. The world shrugs, and those eager to launch “the next big thing” feel misled.
Emerson’s essays encourage us to act on our flickers of genius, and many on the visionary path attest to his motivating influence on them. His abiding gift is urging us to roll up our sleeves and do something about our inspired visions. If Emerson’s advice is to serve as more than glib rhetoric, however, there better be a mousetrap produced sooner or later.
At a point in my life when I was launching an invention of my own, I had a friend who was a venture capitalist (though not an investor). He told me that before moneymen like him decide whether to back a new product or project, they are especially concerned about the quality of the person behind it.
An invention or untried idea cannot stand on its own without the driving force of a committed and capable champion. Investors are placing their money bet on the person as much as their idea.
They will not risk their money without considering the advocate’s track record: Does the person have the needed skills? Are they capable of working out the nuts and bolts of the endeavor all the way to the payoff? Is this their first mousetrap? As with first love, an upstart creator cannot imagine the world won’t want and embrace what they have done—once the word gets out about how great it is.
Has he or she survived the disappointments of that naïve phase (sadder but wiser), then taken an idea through the stages to follow? In sum, how likely is the person to pull it off?
But there is a larger view to notice as well, beyond the practical outcome of the undertaking. While the innovator developed and launched what they assumed was the next eagerly awaited “mousetrap,” they had also been remaking the mousetrap maker (himself or herself).
They were becoming more vision-focused than before. What the person went through in devoted service to their over-riding mission refined their discernment and proficiency. It also expanded their perceptual lens, to bring more kinds of know-how and judgment to bear in any future undertaking.
Less apparent, the person was not simply more capable but was a step removed from their prior frame of reference. They had disengaged from where they started, to some extent, and thereby changed their long-term trajectory.
To paraphrase Emerson, “Build a better mousetrap maker, and the world will beat a pathway to your door.” The world desires and needs better mousetrap makers much more than a larger selection of mousetraps. Anyone who can find original and ingenious solutions to what people want, as well as reinvent who they are in the bargain, is sure to make waves.
This was first published in Naked Visionary © 2012 by Faith Lynella. It has also been reissued as a BonBon in More BonBons