26 Aug 2012 Neil Armstrong – an icon of an age of adventure
I remember as a little kid being captivated by the imagery in the Tin Tin comic album “Destination Moon”. It’s an outlandish adventure that involves travelling through space in a red and white rocket ship all the way to the moon. And in parallel, the outlandish adventure was being played out for real in the Apollo missions. When Neil Armstrong became the first human being to step on another world, fantasy became reality. Science fiction became science fact and we could dare to dream that anything was possible.
The sad news that Neil Armstrong died this weekend serves more than to remind us of that great event in history. It’s also a reminder of that age of adventure when it wasn’t all about money.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to sit in the Olympic Stadium in London where I watched the world’s fastest man make history. But during the Olympic games, I witnessed something that impressed me more. I saw a nation united by something that wasn’t a war. The British taxpayers spent over £10 billion building the 2012 Olympics. We’re unlikely to see much if any of our money back but that doesn’t mean we haven’t got a return on investment – you just can’t measure it in cash.
The cult of commerce dominates our lives. It demands a profit at the cost of all else and it dictates that everything has to deliver a monetary return. It’s a culture that rewards greed it justifies selfishness and inequality and it elevates number crunchers, the bankers, the venture capitalist, the economists and accountants, to a revered status – the untouchables – the high priests of capitalism.
I don’t mean to demonize accountants and bankers – well not completely. They play important roles in the modern world but they couldn’t put a man on the moon could they? And neither would they fund £10 billion to put on a few weeks of international sport. They’d want to see a business case. They’d need a return on investment – a cash return. They’d want to see a profit.
There’s more to life than that. There’s more to business than that. Most people that start a business do so because they have a passion – a passion to pursue a dream – a passion to do things a better way – a passion to change a little part of the world. A business driven by passion is more valuable than a business driven by money. But an accountant or stockbroker wouldn’t tell you that.
I’ve dealt with many businesses large and small in my working life and I’ve seen it many times. When the founders are at the helm – the people who had the sense of adventure and passion to put their lives on hold to build something worthwhile – the business thrives. When the finance people become dominant, they appear less like leaders and more like the administrators of the company’s demise. Let me tell you, the day the accountants run your business is the time you know that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.
For those that question whether it was worthwhile to send men to the moon or whether, in the middle of a recession we should have taken two weeks off to watch the Olympics, I would suggest that you ask this question – is the world a better place because we did those things?
I find that question very easy to answer and I wish that the spirit of adventure that drove the space race would be employed more in our modern world. We need adventure capitalists as much as we need venture capitalists. We need bean counters that know how to count more than money and we should not just applaud those who achieve great things for their own sake, we should imitate them.
Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin