As a child, everything is new. Everything tends to grab your attention, but some things stand out and grab yourimagination. For me, one of those things was the idea of doing some kind of business. The idea that you could choose to use your time to interact with people and make money in the process was as close to alchemy and real magic as anything I had ever been exposed to as a child.
I grew up in the suburbs of Houston Texas. The summers were sauna-like in their heat, and at the age of 8 seemed to me to be impossibly long. The summer vacation, a vast stretch of three months, reached so far into the future ahead of me as to be unfathomable. There came a time when bikes and cap guns gave way to a more mercantilist pursuit: “Let’s make some money!” At that young age there are not so many options. Well, so far as we could tell there was just one option: Lemonade Stand.
I put a card table out in my front yard by the street with a folding chair, a package of plastic cups, and of course the star of the show: A mesmerizing glass pitcher of lemonade. I still remember the frigid condensation hanging and rolling down the side of that cold, round container. The midday sun ripping through the floating ice cubes and the spinning shards of light radiating from the pitcher. The melodic ‘tink-tink’ of the ice cubes contacting the glass as I carried the pitcher in a shirt-wetting bear hug from the house out to the street.
The neighbor kids came running over and asked what I was doing. I told them it was 15 cents for a glass. I ended up giving them ‘samples’, and it was not long before they rewarded me by running off home to set up shop as my competition across the street.
Thus emerged an ‘arms race’ of tit-for-tat between me and my rivals across the street. It was the Lemonade Stand War, which would ring in our memories for years to come. They would appear on weekends with a card table, chair, and pitcher to match me. I remember the pricing pressure of having a competitor so close – could we both price our goods at 15 cents?
What they did not know was that my mother, my personal Robert Oppenheimer, had a Manhattan Project of lemonade technology in progress behind closed doors. Seeing my enthusiasm for the business, she had ordered an official Kool-Aid Brand lemonade stand in a box. I will never forget the looks on the faces of my innocent rivals as I pulled out this formidable edifice, and set it up in place of my card table. I smile as I remember the suddenly forlorn appearance of their card table, their white skin turning red under the piercing sun, the looks on their faces a study in disbelief.
It was in clearest terms a kiosk, which had a large flat front, and a tabletop on which the goods would be displayed and the deals made. Behind the counter, shelving was provided, and two tubular columns emerged from either side of the table top holding aloft a gloriously cooling rooftop.
My rivals ran over, and to check out the full meaning of this shift in the balance of power — what had been an even match suddenly looked like a desperate proposition: against this kind of technology, how could they compete?
That was when they saw it – a long treasured and powerful device. Previously untouchable to the children of the neighborhood but the subject of much envy. It was my mom’s money box — the one she would oh-so-professionally pull out and utilize when we did garage sales every year. It was gunmetal grey, and about the size of a cigar box – with 5 slots for bills, a coin tray, and a handy lock mechanism. Seeing that this was neatly placed on the shelf behind the counter was too much for the rival kids. They knew that they had been outmatched, and it was shortly thereafter that they withdrew from the Lemonade business forever, once again taking up bike races and cap guns
It was somewhat disappointing to see them turn tail and run. After all, this was never really about the money. We might have thought that it was about the money, but it was more about exploring the limits of what could be done, and using the imagination to power an idea. The lessons that I took away from this episode were related to exactly that — the energizing power of having an idea and running with it, and the feeling of excitement that comes from building something.
These are the same simple ideas that power what I do today. Can you recognize that simple childlike enthusiasm in what you do? Look for it, and find it. I promise you that it is there if you look for it. Tap into it because it is one of the most powerful resources that any of us have and it is there waiting for you.
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