268. Making Stuff Up

The genius of the homo genus is that we imagine new ways to do things.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then geography is the grandmother: it shapes what is useful in a particular place. Which maybe helps partly explain why New Zealanders like to invent new modes of getting around a sparsely populated and challenging environment.

Think of Richard Pearse taking flight in 1903, or Bill Hamilton developing the jet boat in the 1960s.

Then there’s our long coast line, which has inspired the creation of amphibious vehicles such as Sealegs and the Gibbs Quadski.

Today marks the listing of the Christchurch-based Martin Aircraft Company on the Australian Stock Exchange (using the MJP ticker). This is the crew that wants to make the science fiction of personal jet packs a reality. To which all the middle-aged kids in the audience say “Coo-ool.”

That ‘necessity’ thing is also untrue, because planes and amphibious boats and jet packs aren’t strictly necessary. We got by for a fair while without them. The necessity is what lies in the heart of the inventor, that drives them forward for years and decades to do something that hasn’t been done before. And which may or may not fill an unknown need at a price people are willing to pay.

The real story is that commercialising a new idea is really bloody difficult, especially from New Zealand with its small population and thin capital markets. Pearse was beaten to the goal of controlled powered flight because he was just one bloke in a shed. Hamilton had a successful engineering company so he could take the idea a lot further, but even then it was overseas companies that erupted the potential.

So while we celebrate the vision and tenacity of the originators such as Glenn Martin, spare a thought for the early-stage investors who do the financial heavy-lifting to convert an idea into a product. It’s not particularly sexy, only … necessary.

Disclosure: I don’t own any shares in MJP, but I’d love to fly one.

About Ned Davy

By hokey, the big fella’s tipped into his 50s. A rangy loose forward in his prime, good with the ball in hand, but rarely up with the play any more.
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