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Stars and Styrene-Butadiene

“Daddy, why is the sky blue?”
“Daddy, why is thunder so loud?”
“Daddy, what are shooting stars?”

Growing up I asked so many questions, as all children do. I was so curious about the world around me and always wanted an answer for everything. Usually, when given an answer, I once again asked, “why?” Thankfully, I had my father to answer all of the questions that plagued my adolescent mind. The thing about my father, though, was that he never gave a short answer. A simple question about the stars would turn into a thirty minute discussion about the chemical reactions on the surface of those stars, the galaxies in which they resided, and the expanse of the universe itself. It was always interesting, albeit somewhat difficult, for my young mind to understand. Let’s face it, at 6 years old, you’re lucky if your attention span lasts two minutes, let alone thirty. His lessons usually ended with me saying, “Okay, daddy, that’s all I wanted to know. You answered my question. You can stop now.” It happened so often that it became somewhat of a joke between us.

Now that I am well into my 20s, I realize that while I may not have been able to absorb all of the information my father was telling me, his lessons birthed in me the need for more than just a one-word answer to my questions. I’m absolutely sure that this is one of the many things that persuaded me to study biochemistry in college.

In growing older, I also began to understand my father’s career more and how it directly related to his detailed, scientific responses to my questions. As a child, I knew he had his own company, and I knew the standard response to give when my friends or teachers asked what he did:
“He owns a custom-molded rubber products company.”

I would say these rehearsed words with pride, but I had no clue what they meant or just how tedious his work was.

Now I know.

I know that my father was once a student in an advanced BS/MD program planning to do his residency in OB/GYN. I know that my father never ended up finishing college or getting his Bachelor’s degree. I know that even without these accolades he became incredibly skilled and successful at his work.

My father never had formal training from a university in his field. He learned new information on the job and committed it to memory. He worked. Hard. He took a chance to do something that he believed in. He learned by trial and error. He always asked ‘why’ in every situation, and went on to find the answers to his own questions. He dove into every subject, even those outside of his field, to simply gain as much knowledge as he could.

Sure, his extensive knowledge of the stars had nothing to do with “custom-molded rubber products”…but, well, maybe it did.

You see, my dad always taught me that no piece of information is ever useless, and when I decided to completely change my career path from biochemistry to the music business, I found that he was right. Having an excess of knowledge about things outside your field gives you an edge. It makes you approach problems within your field in a new way and find creative ways to solve them. It prevents you from getting stuck in the same old place as before.

This is innovation in its purest form.

This is what has caused my father to be successful after 34 years of developing parts from scratch, after 34 years of seeing a project through from its birth as a simple idea in the mind to a physical product that can be held in your hand. His desire to learn more, to grow more, to know more – that is the mindset that births innovation. Progress. A solution.

Always asking “why” is crucial, no matter the subject, because you’ll never know when and where that little tidbit of information can be applied in the future.

And, if all else fails, and you never end up using that extensive knowledge of the inner workings of a volcano for your marketing business, well, like my dad says, “at least you’ll know it for when you go on Jeopardy.”

Written by:  AC Jones