Thursday, June 25, 2015

Getting one of your favorite TV episodes wrong

This week I was reading Paul R. Brown’s 2015 book, Entrepreneurship for the Rest of Us and on page 123 I saw the following story highlighted in a gray box:


We all like confirmation that something we believe is correct. I got mine, for this chapter, from my favorite antihero, Homer Simpson of The Simpsons.

After realizing that he has lived half his life and doesn’t have much to show or it, Homer, in one of my favorite episodes, is inspired by Thomas Alva Edison and sets out to become an inventor.

Not surprisingly, given that this is Homer, most of his inventions - a horn that sounds every three seconds when everything is perfectly okay, a musket that women have to aim at their face to apply makeup - are profoundly lame. But in the midst of creating these dumb ideas, Homer inadvertently comes up with a good one.

While he was pondering his next invention, Homer would lean back in his chair... and promptly fall over. This happens repeatedly. To solve the problem he creates a chair with two hinged legs on the back, making it impossible to tip over backward. Voilà! A new invention is born.

If Homer Simpson can turn a problem into an innovative solution, so can you.”

But, that’s not how that episode, The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace, really ends. Instead:

“His hopes are destroyed when he notices his poster of Edison, which shows Edison sitting in the same type of chair, indicating that he has already invented Homer's untippable chair. Bart points out that the chair is not featured on a list of Edison's inventions, and that maybe no one knows he invented it.”

So, Homer goes to sneak into the Edison Museum to smash Edison’s chair with the electric hammer that he really invented. He changes his mind, but accidentally leaves the hammer behind. On the TV news the Simpsons see that both the chair and the electric hammer have just been discovered at the Edison Museum, and are expected to generate even more money for Edison's already wealthy heirs.

That ending illustrates what is known as The Matthew Effect (Matthew 25:29) which tells us that life isn’t fair. The the King James version says:

“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.”

Before you put a story in a book or a speech, it is important to double check and see that you got it right. 

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