Weekend with Bernie

Weekend with Bernie

May 9, 2021

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by Trey Nosrac

“How did your weekend with Bernie go?” I asked my friend as we watched his friend shuffle up to the Departing Flights kiosk.

He shrugged. “Awkward. I worked with Bernie for 25 years, but it was surprising how little I know about him. Work friends can run out of steam in the real world. After we reminisced about the company and we bitched about how the new people were ruining everything, the air went out of the conversation balloon.”

I smiled. “A pair of retired technology nerds, both single, sitting in an old farmhouse during a pandemic. Sheesh, don’t pitch that as a screenplay.”

“The crazy thing was that at work, we always had a lot to say. We were department heads in a big tech company, but away from work, we are pathetic. Away from our comfort zones, sitting around for two days, we couldn’t find a thread to follow that did not seem stupid or foolish.”

I pointed my index finger at him. “See, that’s why you hire me for a driver. There is never dead air when Trey is around.”

“Just hot air. Ironically, you were responsible for an odd subject that caused a little interest.”
“Do tell.”

“Remember telling me about the idea of renting Hansom Cab rides, using retired trotting horses for profit?” (full story here).

“I do.”

“Yesterday morning, sitting on my front porch during another lag in our conversation, I mentioned the idea to Bernie. He doesn’t know anything about horses or racing, but he understands business. After I gave him a broad outline, we began kicking around the pros and cons of the concept. Suddenly our conversation got rolling. We felt like we were back at work in one of our ideation meetings.”

“Like brainstorming?”

He nodded. “Exactly. At the company, we would meet in groups to explore new product proposals each month. One of us grabbed the felt tip marker and walked up to the whiteboard to jot down notes for the eternal question -“Why would a customer want this product?” Then we would freewheel. The technique is as old as dirt. It doesn’t matter if it is designing a new house, a computer interface, or a streaming service.”

“So, you and Bernie kicked around the Hansom Cab idea?”

“We did. I took notes on my iPad. For 20 minutes, the nerds came to life.”

“What did you come up with?”

He looked at his phone screen, “Some of the spitballs for the horse ride project were privacy, nature, history, unique, not intimidating, and the payment goes to beneficial purpose. He looked at me and then continued, “Not limited by age, not limited by physical ability, day or night, weather resistance, virus resistance, and the service could be tailored to a purpose like bird watching. Repeatable. Do you want more of our ideas?”

“Dude, as I proved in high school, there are never enough spitballs.”

He continued, “More on the list were renovate the vehicle design with windscreens that flip up and down, seat belts, or headlamps. Consider a self-driving option, destination ride options, phone apps for narration on local history or about the vehicle or the local terrain, franchising possibilities, narration on the history of each horse, or of the history of the vehicle.

I asked, “Man, this is how bigshot nerds socialize? Is this the way Silicon Valley operates? Is this how they built Microsoft?”

He chuckled. “Bernie and I felt like old horses hooked up to harness. We wanted to run. It’s instinctive.”

“What about obstacles? Creators have to look for downsides.”

He nodded, “Of course. After about 15 minutes, Bernie and I started to exhaust our positives spitballs. Then we spent a few minutes making another list under the category of possible impediments.”

“And what were they?”

He looked at his phone again, “Mostlyinsurance coverage; it would be necessary for drivers, passengers, and employees. Then we had veterinarian costs, path maintenance, the legality of self-driving option, requirements for drivers, and aftercare for horses when they retire from carriage duty.”

“Then what??”

“In my old world, each member of the think tank took a copy of the list home or back to our offices. We would let the project marinate, consider the issue for at least a week. Then at another meeting, we would begin to craft slightly more specific plans.”

“That was your job! Sitting around thinking about crazy stuff, barely working. That’s my resume. They should have hired me.”

He gave a shake of his head, “Oh, there was work, plenty of work that followed thinking. There was also a mountain of ideas that never got past the whiteboard.”

“What did Bernie think about the Hansom concept?”

“He liked it. I like it. Of course, this was a long way from our technology business, but right off the bat, Bernie had a thought about the concept that could lower costs, increase income, be a public relations dream, and excellent recruitment tool for your sport.”

“Please don’t go into artificial intelligence or computer software mode.”

“No, nothing along those lines. Bernie suggested that existing harness horse retirement and repurposing operations could lean into the positives and transition to offering Hansom rides.A charitable status, a 501(c)(3), could be useful. Organizations that qualify are exempt from corporate income taxes on their program revenues, and gifts to these organizations can usually be deducted from individual income taxes as well.”

I tossed back, “Hansom cab rides for charity.”

“Maybe the idea could help people and horses in the sport. At this point, it is merely an idea on a whiteboard. Hansom rides could be a business, or they could be a wild pipedream. But as Dorothy Parker said, ‘Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.’”

I smiled. “I don’t know Dorothy, but I like her style.”

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