There’s a better way to do this

Below was a piece I wrote about two years ago. I found this in the archives and wanted to share. I like the title because it really reflects the philosophy of Richard Branson, an economic genius in my book who really gets success by a similar approach I had taken in some of my jobs. Although he is a bit more successful than I have been so far…Anyway, read on and enjoy.

There’s got to be a better way to do this!

There have been times in my life where I find myself buying something and doing hours of consumer research to find the best bang for the buck. I try to balance cost with quality and get something that’s going to fit the bill but also have a decent level of quality. Part of me thinks I should have written for Consumer Reports but that’s a different story.

During my junior year of college I found myself needing a new computer. I had a chemistry class at the time which required me to do complicated reports and my current computer was unable to handle the requirements of the programs. When I did my search for computers (this was in 2001 mind you) I hit the retailers, did some price comparisons online and even talked to one of my friends who worked for a computer company at the time. I knew what I wanted to spend but I found myself fearing that systems I was going to purchase would be horribly outdated within the next year (18 months is usually the standard but my budget didn’t allow me to plan ahead for that).

I knew what I wanted in my system (processor, motherboard capability, graphics) but couldn’t afford it. Not in the stores anyway. I decided to look online for the individual components and price out the total cost of what I wanted. Sure enough I was able to get more than what I wanted (which allowed for upgrades in the future) if I were to build my own system. The kicker is I’d have to put all the chips, drives and cables together myself. By trade I was not a PC builder and had never designed a system before. But my maven attributes kept burning underneath my skin and I found the motivation to learn this myself. With a bit of research I was able to find out how to get this all together and then install an Operating system (I got Windows 98 off of ebay). After about a month of work (full time classes only allowed me to play around with this for a little bit each day and there are always technical issues!) I had my system up and running. I think I only spent around $630.00 at the time and that was far cheaper than any of the mid-grade computers on the market. Even better was the fact that I used that system for a good 5 years before my needs outgrew the system capabilities. With a little planning and motivation I was able to get a good product and save myself quite a bit of money doing it!

The good thing about the internet is the fact that there is a lot of information available by people that are very passionate about what they do. Many of the forums set up are by enthusiasts involved in a particular hobby, product, or lifestyle. There is no way that this magnitude of information would be available by some corporation or company taking the time and resources to do so. Passion doesn’t require an expense justification.

In all honesty I’m a car guy. I love cars. I can probably tell you statistics about many of the cars on the road today that only most salesmen and mechanics would be able to pull off the top of their head. Some people memorize batting averages while I memorize engine displacement and horsepower ratings. I find cars to be amazing machines with so much potential to be both fun and practical. One of my favorite cars I’ve ever owned was a 2001 Celica GT. My wife and I had no kids at the time when I owned that car, and it seemed to be the perfect commuter car to meet my needs. It didn’t have trouble merging onto freeway traffic, had razor sharp handling and I could fit a ridiculous amount of weekend gear in the back with the seats folded down. It even got good fuel economy too! When I bought it used (3 yrs old and only 33k on it) I was getting 28mpg with combined city and freeway driving. This seemed to be the best of all worlds.

I did some reading on a couple of web forums dedicated to the Toyota Celica and discovered the world of modding cars. There were countless members who installed upgraded exhausts, air intakes, turbo and nitrous kits and many other projects to make their cars “theirs.” I discovered by doing basic air intake and exhaust system upgrades that my GT wasn’t going to gain much power. I was telling this to a Corvette owner and he encouraged me to try it anyway because many of these upgrades would produce fuel economy gains (provided you didn’t have a heavy foot).

Within an 18 month period I upgraded the exhaust header, air intake and muffler. With each upgrade I noticed the engine ran smoother and gained a little bit of efficiency. By the time I was done upgrading, my back road commute to work was yielding me 40mpg! By contrast the Toyota Prius of today averages 44. I was so satisfied that I was able to take a product I was already happy with and make it better. I’m still convinced that if I were to retune the engine management I’d be able to squeak out another couple MPG on that car. I had neither the time nor resources to do that before I traded in the car. That was the most difficult time turning over a set of keys I’ve ever had, due to the time and effort I put under the hood. It became an outlet for my passion of cars. You can’t buy that level of enthusiasm.

I guess my point is that there is always room for improvement and if you see something that can be done better, don’t be afraid to challenge it. This is how innovation works and really is only fueled by a passion for excellence. Don’t settle, don’t be afraid, just try it out. You never know what you might get.

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