The one person you must never, ever listen to

February 23, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Here’s a basic rule you can live by, safe in the knowledge that doing so will, almost invariably, lead to a happier existence:

When the sour voice of resistance and stagnation makes a statement about How Things Really Should Be, check your sources. And then run the other way.

More specifically: When the former CEO of any bloated, archaic industry, one that hasn’t had to innovate or revolutionize its ways in nearly a century, warns you against doing something, that’s you’re cue: Do it. Do it now.

Sounds obvious, right? It’s not. Cynicism and the bitter daggers of doubt can be unutterably clever, cloaking themselves as sage wisdom, as insight, strewn about everywhere: in college, in church, in unhappy parents, in media, in industries of every shape and tone. But mostly, they take up residence in your very own head. They are the parasites on your creative impulse, sand in the gas tank of just shut up and do it. And they mean you ill.

Let’s back up: Surely you’ve heard the silly/fascinating rumor that Apple, the largest and most respected, beloved gizmo maker in world history, is working on some sort of electric automobile.

It’s true. Breathless reports abound that Apple has hired a top-secret team of 300+ automotive engineers, designers, experts. They are doing some strange experiments with minivans. They are gathering facilities, machinery, know-how. They are not denying anything. Intriguing!

No one has the slightest clue what Apple might be doing in this category, so far away from their normal universe of shiny handheld fetish objects, but hey, it’s Apple. Predicting their next serious move has become something like fantasy football for geeks.

Behold, outta nowhere comes one Dan Akerson, former CEO of General Motors (you’ve likely never heard of him; he retired last year, was only there since 2010), who felt the odd need to blurt out to Bloomberg that Apple is, you know, totally crazy, way out of its league, should probably stick to phones. And whatever.

750 billion reasons to say why the hell not?

750 billion reasons to say why the hell not?

“We take steel, raw steel, and turn it into car. They have no idea what they’re getting into if they get into that,” he said. Apparently, making cars is, you know, really hard. Who knew?

Of course, Dan’s totally right. He’s also totally full of it.

Before further eye-rolling commences, let us float the idea for a second: Is there any other company on earth you’d rather see reinvent the car from scratch, than Apple? Just to see what they come up with? Just to see if they could revolutionize yet another tepid, boring industry?

Me, I love me some German engineering and could probably die happy racing an Audi R8 or a Jaguar F-Type around the Italian countryside while blasting Metallica and sipping artisan bourbon with my girl by my side, but I’d still love to witness Apple’s creation and see the toxic, wasteful, pollutive car industry transformed. It’s long overdue.

As for Apple, there’s simply no company on earth who’s better at taking the hoary fragments of a stagnant, flaccid industry (computers, music biz, cell phones) and rebuilding them into something wildly new, fantastically desirable, and yet, somehow, perfectly obvious.

Flashback: Do you know how many grumpy telecom CEOs said Apple had no business entering the entrenched cell phone market, back in 2007? How many said the iPhone was a sure-fire flop, Apple was way out of its league and should stick to computers?

You got it: all of them.

Yeah, cars are different. More complicated. Bigger supply chain. So what? Apple has something like five gazillion dollars in cash. Tim Cook is a god of supply chain efficiency. Tesla has opened a floodgate of possibility. Who would you rather see race right through those gates, Hyundai?

But never mind all that. Forget Apple, or even Akerson, per se. There is a larger and more urgent rule here, in need of effusive illumination. This rule doesn’t care if you’re worth $750 billion or 75 bucks, if you’re in tech or in textiles, if you’re writing code or writing an epic poem comprised of 100,000 tweets.

Former GM CEO Dan Akerson. Probably a nice guy. Smart. Listen patiently. Nod kindly. Then high tail it the other way.

Former GM CEO Dan Akerson. Probably a nice guy. Smart. Listen patiently. Nod kindly. Then high tail it the other way.

Goes like this: Listen to burned-out unhappy anti-innovation curmudgeons at your peril. They are plentiful, they are sneaky as hell, and the seem to exist solely to studiously warn you away from, well, just about anything. Love. Tattoos. Exercise. Exotic travel. Healthy living. Fun drugs. Difficult yoga poses. Moving to France. Book ideas. Anal sex. Rejecting religion. Inviting the new.

Sometimes they show up obvious: Retired CEO. Priest. Alcoholic dad from childhood. Guilt. San Francisco Archbishop. Heartbreak. Republican. Sexist troll. Fox News. Dead ideology.

But mostly, they scurry around up in your head, messing with your motivation, throwing up fear, doubt, shame, not worthy, not capable, not good enough, you’re out of your league, you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, what the f—k are you thinking. True wisdom, true advice, true insight never tells you not to bother, that you’re a fool to think you have a chance, and that if you ignore the advice and do it anyway, your followers should dump you, quick.

It’s rare you get to see the rule so flagrantly displayed like this, but Dan Akerson was kind enough to spell it out. That thing you’re thinking of doing? Way too hard. Way too much. You’re crazy to think you can just waltz right in and change the goddamn world like that. Right? Aren’t you? Yep. Sure. Good.

Do it anyway.

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Mark Morford

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