Written by

Andrew Millar


July 1, 2007

I have developed a ritual over the last 3 weekends.

It involves getting everything I have to do out of the way by 4pm Saturday and then sitting down to watch an obscure Cable TV program for a half an hour. ‘Pipes’ is not a bad concept for a ‘car’ program. The basic notion is that two teams compete in a straight-line drag race. The cars are stock and the times are noted. Each team then has 4 hours and $1500 to modify the car and re-race at the end of the program. The winner is the one who beats their previous time by the largest margin. Simple stuff, but not a bad concept. (I would include a few corners if I were to transport the program to Australia though. The American obsession for pure straight line speed makes for dull viewing. It’s a good thing the ‘race’ only lasts for 6 or 7 seconds…)

The teams are professional mechanics but are drawn from small workshops across America. Some are friends and others are family businesses – father/son teams. Each takes a different approach. Some look at their problem with engineering skill and prowess, tackling traction and tuning to gain time. Others look at power and throw bits on in the pursuit of raw grunt. It seems as though the winners so far are the teams who look at getting the power they have onto the track and avoiding wheel spin. With all due respect to the show’s name, just adding larger pipes to the intake and exhaust of the engine often results in the car going slower!

I am intrigued by the amount of aftermarket bits these ‘badboys’ can add to their cars. It’s a multi-billion dollar market that supplies everything from go faster gear knobs, to ‘need for speed’ bits, to completely redesigned nose cones that totally alter the look of a car.

The Aftermarket industry is expected to top $60 billion by 2010, in the US alone. But why do we need to spend so much time and money modifying a car that was pretty damn good right from the factory?

Well, to answer this we need to look at the difference between two very similar sounding words that could not be more different. Individuality and Individualism.

Let’s start with Individualism. To me, Individualism is about wanting to be different just for the sake of being different. It’s about greedily wanting to maximise your slice of the pie. In Las Vegas you can see young Latinos pull up at the traffic lights as their hubcaps keep spinning and their cars jump up and down on hydraulic rams in a typical example of desire for attention or gross social greed. Individualism, infact, lies at the heart of Capitalism, and the USA is the leading exponent of the desire to compete to get more. It is purely selfish. The individual wins and therefore society loses. The opposite is Communism, where the individual loses and society wins.

Yet there could be a new world order, not based on Individualism or Communism. There could be a society based on the best of both ideologies.

I’d like to call it Individuality. Here the individual and the group can win. Altruistic, collectivist, capitalist and communistic at the same time. Here creativity would be rewarded and society would afford it some space . But it already has, you say, look at all the Art Galleries we have. What about theatres and playhouses? Well, until we reach a day when teachers no longer put children down by saying, ‘She’s got a vivid imagination’ or ‘He’s a day dreamer’, we can’t honestly claim to fully celebrate individualty in our society. In fact our whole education system has to change from ‘What is…?’ to greater encouragement of ‘What if…?’ Sure, we’ve moved on from the days when the likes of Galileo were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church and forced to show obedience to their truth. But we have a long way to go.

What we need are close-knit communities which encourage individual development,
originality and fulfilment.

The trouble is that change from one form of ideology to another results in a period of instability. Marketers often seem to concentrate on Individualism tenets and sell to the desire for ‘more and more’, not the freedom for self-expression that something might deliver.

So, as luck would have it, our two teams competing on Pipes neatly fell into our two categories. A band of your Jersey Boys who added a louder exhaust, bigger wheels and a new gear knob resulting in individualism slowing them down by one second.

And the winners? Their individuality led a father/son team to ignore the standard technique of bolting on a louder exhaust. They dealt with suspension and tuning, leaving the rest of the car stock standard, but lightening their time by 2 seconds.

This was a clear case of individual development and originality leading directly to fulfilment.

Creativity wins.