This is my first inspirational post – fair warning!
I have recently spent way too much time noodling around the world of economy pens and pencils, and the blogs that are devoted to them. You know, the pens and pencils that are stocked in your office supplies cabinet. (There’s not a blog for everything, there’s a bunch of them! Also, there are specialty retailers aplenty to serve any — any — interest!) As a result, I now have dozens of different types and brands (many non-U.S) of individual woodcase pencils, low-cost mechanical pencils, and inexpensive office-type pens on my desk…dozens of each, that is.
No, I do not have OCD.
You think you’re in a viciously competitive business? Try adding a half-percent to your market share in the woodcase pencil business where the high-end items sell for 8 cents at retail, and no one gives a hoot about what brand they use.
But here’s the amazing, uplifting thing: almost all of these products are astonishingly good — nay, superb — at their task. The ubiquitous Pilot G2 gel pen, for example, or the yellow Dixon Ticonderoga pencil, both write, feel, and perform like fine precision instruments…which in fact they are.
And that’s because the competition in the industry is so intense. Competition works! It is, in fact, the fundamental driver of innovation and progress. Does that sound like a too-pious statement? Consider the situation that Naill Ferguson describes in his latest book, Civilization, The West and the Rest. In the 15th century, if you looked about at the world and were trying to place bets on who’d be the dominant civilization in a couple hundred years, you’d have bet on the Chinese. They had a highly refined, prosperous, well-ordered society with a high level of everything that we consider civilized. Europe was relatively ignorant, disease-ridden, fractured, backwards, and relatively poor. But Europe’s states grew to be the dominant world powers over the next several hundred years, and it was the competition between them that played a central role in their rising. A more recent example: there wasn’t a whole lot of progress in the static, planned world of the Soviet empire.
So when you, an employee somewhere in a corporation, working in a field where you are always trying to get just a little ahead of your counterparts in a competing corporation, get discouraged, remember the larger play that you are privileged to be part of. It is your efforts that literally move society forward.
Remember the story about the brick layers who were asked what they are doing. “I’m laying bricks”, said one. “I’m working on a wall”, said another. “I’m building a cathedral”, said the third.
P.S. Not that I’ve gotten drawn into the economy pen and pencil thing too far, but I definitely have some strong opinions here. The best economy pen is the Pentel EnerGel, and the best economy mechanical pencil is the Pentel TwistErase. Anything else is fightin’ words! 🙂