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2014: The Year of the Non-Existent Product

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Adapted and inspired from recent teachings of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.

Recently I’ve watched a TED video that attempted to reverse the tide of TED. The speaker explained how the nitty-gritty details were more central than the epiphanies and inspired ideas presented in most TED videos. He told of an astrophysicist friend of his, who was turned down by a potential donor because he didn’t sound more like Malcolm Gladwell. The speaker asked (rhetorically): is this is the approach we the public should be taking. Does it make sense that a well-trained scientist should play second fiddle to those who are better able to popularize the subject matter?

Instead of reversing the tide, while details are important, let’s approach it differently. While this speaker says that good ideas don’t equal a good world, according to Jewish thought, good ideas are certainly very powerful unto themselves. There is a Chassidic adage that “think good and it will be good.” This is not some well-meaning positivism, but a truism that is hardcoded into creation.

The effect of positive thinking is seen quite readily in warfare, sports, or any achievement-based discipline. It is the thoughts and ideas behinds our actions, that lead to the desired result, as in the saying from the sages, “thought [brings the] effect” (מַחְשָׁבָה מוֹעֶלֶת).

What this TED lecture highlighted, and what we are beginning to become conscious of, is that knowledge is primary. What comes afterwards, the physical manifestation of the thought, might not need to come about at all for the thought to be meaningful. Since the Enlightenment, we got used to a world where the physical was primary, and the spiritual was old and antiquated. But as this speaker himself admitted, the ‘big ideas’ presented at TED lectures more resemble the spiritual than the physical. Does it matter if TED talks are acted upon? It is the idea that first attracted millions, so why should we then conclude that the only viable outcome is a material one? While we expected Steve Jobs to hold something during his new product announcement speeches, and not just speak such lofty ideas as “think different” without the physical result of this concept, we are now approaching a point in history when the physical is no longer necessarily. The idea is valid whether the product is developed or not.

The End of the Enlightenment

One great principle in the Torah’s inner dimension states that every “husk” exhausts itself, eventually falling and dying. The French Revolution, and the Enlightenment that fed the entire development of the modern world, is about to reach its end. More exactly, the evil side of it is gradually exhausting itself completely. The attempt to place mankind on a Divine pedestal, to worship human intellect and success, and to use it as the only gauge for truth and judgment, is gradually losing its appeal. After shattering all the old myths, the statue of mankind who coronated himself is crumbling to dust. So much so that in today’s post-modern world (or perhaps, post-post-modern) we are hearing completely different tunes than what were heard during the French Revolution.

Now, in our generation in particular, we are witnessing a vast upheaval. Since the Enlightenment, traditional Judaism has been on the defense, and even receded in a constant process of retreat. Many communities fell captive to the winds of the Enlightenment, and it seemed traditional Jewish observance was being cast away by this self-confidence wave of secularism. At the time, it appeared that this trend would continue; showing religious observance to be something outdated and irrelevant. Yet amazingly, a generation of teshuvah (returnees to God and His Torah) has arrived, and the serpent once again lies helpless to the “hand of Moses” in our generation.

At the final showdown, the serpent itself will become a Divine staff. All the beauty and symmetry, all the wisdom and intelligence that has been discovered since the French Revolution, will be refined and brought under the auspices of holiness: “And an infant shall play over the hole of a snake, and over the den of an adder a weaned child shall stretch forth his hand. They shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount, for the land shall be full of knowledge of God as water covers the sea bed.”[1]

Go and Learn

All that was now said presents a clear indication of what to expect in the weeks and months to come. Does it make a difference if Amazon attains FAA approval, and launches a fleet of flying drones in the next five years? Perhaps. But what I do know for sure is that there is a lot to this concept of “instantaneous delivery.” So much in fact that millions of people are waiting to hear more about it if presented in the right way. In Jewish thought, “instantaneous delivery” relates to the wellsprings of knowledge that will burst forth—yet remain connected to their Source—after the arrival of Mashiach. The fact that a product needs to travel from a warehouse to you is conceptually problematic. A more futuristic version is to have the warehouse come to you. But instead of 3D printers, drones or rockets delivering your package of baby wipes, much more beneficial would be to hone in on what the public is really getting excited about (hint: it’s not the package of baby wipes being flown in from the sky).

The same goes for the other great marketing concepts that we all know about. Just like happiness doesn’t reside in a can of Coke, purity is not inside a Poland Spring bottle. So too, there is a new Heinz marketing campaign that encourages customers to be original. But nothing is more ordinary than ketchup (even though this one flavor is somehow available in “57 varieties”).

While at the end, Apple is just a computer company and Coke just sells drinks, the appeal was and is with the ideas or concepts behind the marketing. What is now changing is that the world is beginning to realize that aside from the necessities of life, we don’t need these augmented products at all. If a person is thirsty, drink some water, and go back to studying about what the deeper meaning of happiness and purity is! Want to “think different” and be a creative person? Learn more about the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden (the allusion that is likely being made in the “bitten apple” logo; although according to Jewish tradition, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was likely not an Apple).

About the Author: Yonatan Gordon has spent most of his past 13 professional years in the world of Jewish publishing. He was the Marketing Manager at Kehot Publication Society (publishing arm of Chabad) for the better part of six years. He is founder of the website Community of Readers.


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2 Responses to “2014: The Year of the Non-Existent Product”

  1. his idea of convergence between the logical world and the spiritual world is something I never thought was really possible with the way I was raised. When I developed a product/concept of my own, I started to make all these links when I started to research the symbols and themes I was planning on using to market this new concept (it's really not a "new" concept, but a convergence of many old and newish concepts). As I worked on it, I realized how some of my drawings and explanations showing how to use this product felt like they were linked to Judaic culture, and as I read more about Judaic beliefs, I realized that the material and logical are not always in conflict with the super-natural and spiritual. I don't know what the public is really excited about though…to me, I would think they're waiting for the physical world to catch up to the speed of the digital world, and for that to happen, Amazon's idea is not the most efficient or reliable. A better idea would be if governments would use the idea of convergence for infrastructure while maintaining a simplicity of design that reduces unpredictable disasters, while allowing their drones to operate with that system. The convergence you're talking about seems more reliable and longer-lasting than this one though.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Roasted Locust (a very timely name considering the Torah portion we are now in!).

    I wrote up a lengthy response, but somehow it was deleted. That said, I would be happy to explain the article in more details, including some more actionable aspects if you would like.

    I can be reached at ysgordon@gmail.com

    Shabbat Shalom,
    Yonatan Gordon

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