Back when everyone was creating useless iPhone apps because everyone was downloading useless iPhone apps, I came up with a useless iPhone app of my own. It was called “Sarcastic Guru,” and it went something like this.
You’d open the app, and you’d see this old bald and bearded dude sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop. The scene would sync with your iPhone’s clock and calendar, so it would know what time it was, and the backdrop would progress from day to night, and the moon would wax and wane, accordingly. There’d be some trees that would change with the seasons, some animals that might randomly hop past, and maybe the occasional snowfall. But most importantly, in the guru’s hand, there would be a Magic 8-Ball.
The idea was you’d ask the guru a question, shake your phone (tapping into the iPhone’s gyroscope!), and get your answer. Only, in addition to the standard “yes,” “no,” and “it is decidedly so” answers, he’d offer three cubic shit-tons of asinine replies. Like for instance:
“Why don’t you just grow up, already?”
“It’s turtles all the way down.”
“That’s what she said.”
There’d be absurd replies involving 80’s pop culture, and there’d be enlightening replies that might actually provide guidance. There’d be short, pithy replies like “Go fuck yourself,” and there’d be long diatribes like Machiavelli’s concept of principalities. Because, why not? Let’s put those public domain essays to work!
I was certain I had a hit on my hands. So I bought a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating Apps, and I looked into an app creation class at the city college. I discovered I was too much of an idiot to understand the Idiot’s Guide, and the college class was booked with a million people on the waiting list. So I gave up entirely and binge-watched three seasons of Veronica Mars instead.
I think about that now, about how I let my million dollar idea fade into obscurity, and I am reminded of something my friend Chip said back when we were in college. We were talking about Richard Garfield, the inventor of Magic: The Gathering, and how the guy became insanely rich by inventing a card game, when Chip posed a question.
“You know what the difference is between people like him and people like us, Nate?”
Chip already knew his own answer, and I didn’t want to get in the way, so I just waited patiently. I assumed he was going to say something about how innovative those people were, or how they had their finger on the pulse of society. Perhaps he’d say they were trail blazers who thought outside the box, acolytes who were touched by god, or, the most common explanation of all when attributing massive success to individuals: They were just plain lucky. After all, those are among the things we tell ourselves to keep from feeling bad about our own lack of success. We often ascribe our mediocrity to forces beyond our control.
Chip’s answer: “When they think of a good idea, they actually follow through with it.”
His sarcastic guru maxim struck me more profoundly than anything I’d learned in Greek philosophy. And it’s stuck with me to this day. Like a Nike slogan.
“Follow through” puts the onus back on us. This can be unsettling if we don’t want to take responsibility for our own inaction; it can be empowering if we acknowledge success is often a matter of our own efforts.
Yes, app creation is hard work. Or at least, it would have been for me. But if I’d actually applied myself, if I’d forged ahead despite the difficulty, who knows how many people would be walking around with the Sarcastic Guru app on their phones while they wore their Sarcastic Guru t-shirts and watched the Sarcastic Guru spinoff cartoon on Adult Swim?
I suppose it could still happen. Someone might read this post and create the app and make the millions. And to you, mysterious person with follow through, I say worry not about me coming after you with claims of it being “my idea.” Because ideas are ubiquitous. But follow through? Follow through is precious. If you follow through with an idea, anyone’s idea, you’re the one who deserves to reap the rewards.
Even so, if you decide to take my idea and run with it, be warned: Sarcastic Guru? Yeah. It’s kind of dumb.