Two interesting conversations recently took place that have a common crossroads. For me it stems from the idea of color and business. Over the past thirty years I have had the ability to see things in development as a finalized, real thing – the end result. A new product, I see it in the final package sitting on the shelf waiting to be bought. A new service being used by the end customer. It has always been an internal guide of what is deliverable and creatable and what might not be.
At the same time I would see and think of these development efforts in many different ways – having reviewed, used, crafted and built every type of development tool imaginable in an effort to gain a competitive edge. In the end I have realized that the skill and in many ways art of developing new products, services, businesses is not for everyone. Not everyone has the ability to see the unseen, or feel the pulse of a market or find the pattern in the white noise of a market.
That is where color comes in to play.
No Blue to write about…
On NPR recently, on Radio Lab there was a series of stories around color. They were all fascinating, but the one on the topic of the color blue jumped out – “Why Isn’t The Sky Blue”. The fast forward to all this is the fact that before a certain point in written history there was no use of the color blue to describe anything, and this all began with a close review in the early 1800’s of The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer. Never once was the word blue used to describe the sky or the water – the color black, or white or even red where used many times – yellow and green a handful of times. Later on a scholar reviewed all the ancient text of the world – from the Vikings to the ancient Chinese; from Beowulf to the original Hebrew Old Testament. In the end the word blue was never used to describe anything.
So the question is, was the world color blind? Could the early history of humanity not see blue? Or was it something else?
What was realized is that, the colors of black was always first to be seen in writing, next white, followed by red, then yellow and next green – finally with blue. In all languages, all ancient stories anywhere in the world. What it came to light was that blue is the color that is hardest to find in nature and even harder to be man made and create. Only the Egyptians had a word for blue early and they had a source of making the color blue for painting.
So not until people could produce the color did they need a word for it. Not until it was in their hands, made by their own hands was it real. Sounds like the fact of those that develop new things – looking to create what no words can describe.
What a cool though. It took me back a bit. No word for blue for a long, long time.
Gray is the color of development?
Next was a business meeting with the owner of a multiple billion dollar company, talking about how to look at new business development, new ideas and start ups. He stated “so much of business is about black and white thinking, or better yet red or black, and this might be the case of an established business but the color of a start up is so much gray it is hard for the black and white people to even see the potential.”
This lead to the thinking that those in new creation, new start ups, new products see the world differently. They are more comfortable with grey – neither right nor wrong, just experience and results; speed and adjustment. This bridged into a visual I have always used when teaching development. Image one is a straight hall, no doors, no turns and the end of the hall is in sight. This is how traditional, established business types see the world – black and white, one answer, one direction.
Next I would show a classical garden maze. This is really want new development is more like. Only in the doing, exploring, asking, seeking and feeling our way do those in development find the path forward. How big is the maze? How complicated? Are their clues to the right path (like some mazes have a ‘turn to the left and you find the end’)? There are those that love the excitement of a new maze, a new challenge and others love the straight shot hall to the meeting room.
It made me think back to that day, in my office at Maritz in the 1385 Bld, where on a marker board I drew out a bunch of boxes, lines and words – I used all the colors in the box of markers I had, but the end word “Industry Changer” was in big blue letters, with stars and circles around it. The idea of the first pre-paid, stored value card – the grandpa of gift cards and debit cards was on the board. I could see the end product in the hands of a user – gaining access to the rewards THEY wanted, the ease, choice and value of a new way to allow people to buy goods and earn a reward. It was in full color and real in my mind. All the colors of light, including gray.
When you think of developing a new idea, what color do you see?