Selling sand at the beach

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SAS values innovationHave you ever thought of selling sand on the beach? Neither have I. To most people the mere idea is preposterous.

But isn’t it how all great discoveries, inventions and breakthroughs are made? Someone comes up with an outwardly crazy, outlandish idea, and despite all the skepticism, criticism, ostracism, ridicule and many attempts and failures, finally succeeds making the rest of us look like fools for not being able to appreciate, accept and embrace it at the very beginning. And the world moves a notch forward.

We are all captives to our own stereotypes. It takes courage, ambition, determination and unleashed creativity to break loose, to go beyond ourselves, to defy all the gravity of habits, traditional thinking, prior knowledge, and experience.

Can we re-gain the free spirit we were born with? Can we re-learn our ability to unburden ourselves from the bonds of conventional wisdom, public opinion, peer pressure and other invisible boundaries that keep us in place?

A case study

About a dozen years ago, we were having a nice vacation at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. It was a beautiful day and we were basking in the sun, enjoying the light breeze and symphony of ocean waves.

Suddenly, I noticed commotion. A little boy, about 5, had broken loose from his parents’ supervision. He ran around the beach with a plastic bag full of sand, stopping at everybody to tell them something. People laughed and sent him off to their beach neighbors or friends. He went on and on, nonstop. His tenacity drew my curiosity.

"What are you doing?" I asked the boy when he was passing by me.

"Selling sand," he replied.

"Sand?" I said, incredulous. "On the beach? Why would anybody want to buy sand? It’s everywhere around here."

Turns out the boy had thought this through.

"I’m not selling just sand," he explained. "I am selling the moist sand from the shore."

I challenged him. "But who needs that moist sand, and why?"

Undeterred, the boy said: "Do you see those people away from water? They might want to build a sand castle, but the sand next to them is not good for that. It’s not sticky, and the people may be too lazy to get closer to the water."

I couldn't argue with that. He continued his mission as I watched, bemused.

After a while without any luck, the boy retreated to the shore, emptied his plastic bag and washed it thoroughly. I thought he’d given up his senseless exercise. Turned out I was grossly mistaken.

He refilled his bag with new, fresh sand and added a few sea shells scattered around in abundance. And he started all over again.

"It didn’t work," he explained as he ran past, "so I took some new sand and added seashells to make it more attractive."

After more laughs and rejections, I saw him hand his bag to a young woman no doubt amused by his persistence. The boy ran away from her with a triumphant smile, waving something.

"I sold it! I sold it! I made two whole bucks!"

He ran up to me, handing me his newly earned two one-dollar bills and lowered his voice:

"Dad, can you put this in my college fund?"

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About Author

Leonid Batkhan

Leonid Batkhan, Ph.D. in Computer Science and Automatic Control Systems, has been a SAS user for more than 25 years. He came to work for SAS in 1995 and is currently a Senior Consultant with the SAS Federal Data Management and Business Intelligence Practice. During his career, Leonid has successfully implemented dozens of SAS applications and projects in various industries. All posts by Leonid Batkhan >>>

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