by Danny Maland
The digging and prodding of the inquisitive is sometimes a bit of a trial for the ol' patience. If it wasn't, the old cliché of a child continually asking “Why?” of an increasingly exasperated adult wouldn't be a cultural staple. Even if we don't particularly find queries to be irritating in and of themselves, we sometimes find ourselves deflecting them to “get on with the show.” (This has been literally true for me a number of times. Yes, I would love to get into all the details of how this works, but there's a band on stage and I need to pay attention to what's going on.)
For all its inconvenience, though, curiosity is, in my opinion, THE currency that runs the AV business. Okay...that statement is bold enough. Why do I think that?
AV is a service industry, no doubt. In the end, success is defined by properly identifying, and then satisfying a customer entity. A customer entity can be a single person, or a vast group of stakeholders. However much this is forgotten by technical types (especially in my end of the business, the “show production” niche) it's equally important to remember that technology is the jet-engine making the customer-service plane fly. The jet fuel for the technology turbine is creative innovation. Without creative innovation, the technology that we employ begins to stagnate. Further, the ways in which we employ that technology stagnate. We've simply got to have a steady supply of this fuel, and this special brand of “rock 'em, sock 'em” super-unleaded is refined from...
If you want to see some examples in action, just find the website of your favorite equipment manufacturer. Especially if they have a detailed “history” page, I'm willing to bet that you will be able to read a narrative about a company founder who was just fascinated with how to create and improve a technological solution to an AV problem. Just think: This fascination, this curiosity, ultimately led to the creation of a widget (or set of widgets) that built an entire operation of design, supply, manufacturing, testing, and delivery. James B. Lansing and Tom Danley are just two examples of curiosity ultimately building Really Cool Stuff ™.
It's not just making components, either. Creative deployment of units manufactured by other people is just as important. One of my biggest inspirations of the last few years has been Dave Rat. Although he certainly has designed and built some very nifty Whiz Bangs of his own, he is (I would say) just as well known for how he is able to creatively leverage tools made by other people. I find myself envious of the way his mind can just seize on some little principle, and then turn that principle into all kinds of usable practice in the real world. Just reading up on his Vortex and Slotfire subwoofer arrays is enough to blow my mind – and not because it's quantum physics. That he hits upon using simple principles in such an effective way is what impresses me.
Curiosity has ultimately been what's kept me in this business, even through many years of not much monetary reward. That fascination just can't be denied.
If I've made any workable case for curiosity being the real life-blood of AV, then I think I've got a foundation to argue that curiosity needs to be fed. I don't think that “The Curious One” in the shop should always be the one in charge – that depends on a whole host of additional qualifications – but I do think that the inventor/ tinkerer/ person-who-just-broke-it-to-figure-it-out should get a lot of support to keep being who they are. I would say that, of course, you have to be mindful of what's cost effective for you, but I would also say that you're probably going to have to use a long-term view. Feeding “The Curious One” properly may end up costing you money for a while; the payoff is likely to take quite some time.
I would also urge you, when hiring, to look for “The Curious One” if you're not actively doing so. I must admit that I've never hired anybody in my life, but I do know what I want in somebody that I would hire if I had the opportunity. Just recently, I had the opportunity to teach an after-school audio program at a local charter school. My top two students were both good at understanding audio concepts, but the one who really stood out to me was the more curious of the pair. The curious student was driven to do his own research and experimentation, and also to talk about it. He didn't have quite the raw talent of his counterpart at the top, but he was clearly fired up. Further, that “fired up” nature was serious and controlled. He wasn't just in love with the ideas, he was in love with them enough to explore them in a way that appeared systematic and thoughtful. I'll tell you, that made quite an impression on Yours Truly. If I was in a position to hire, he would have been offered a job on the spot.
If you want it all boiled down, I would go with this: Feeding curiosity is likely to ultimately create a superior product. If you can spare the financial and/ or time capital necessary to feed the curiosity around you, you are making as good a bet as any. Just my opinion.