As a young, struggling college student in the 1960's I became entranced with the life, philosophy and writings of the great American thinker Eric Hoffer. Hoffer's life story was almost mystical, his thinking so lucid and the concepts he presented were so fresh that I could not get enough of this great mans ideas. Only now do I fully realize how my adherence, to the thoughts of Mr. Hoffer have positively affected my professional life to this very day.
Eric Hoffer was born in Germany. His family immigrated to America when he was a toddler. He could read English and German fluently by the age of five. His earliest years were spent in poverty, living in tenements in New York City. He lost his sight at the age of seven after a fall that ultimately took the life of his mother. Inexplicably, at the age of 15 his sight returned.
This gift of the return of his eyesight stoked a voracious desire in Hoffer to read everything he could lay his hands on. He was completely without formal education and yet he was one of the most studied, learned men of the 20th century.
Hoffer spent most of his life living in farm camps in California, working as a longshoreman and finally in a one room flat in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. His first book, “The True Believer", was an immediate classic and stamped him as a most original thinker. “The True Believer" is Hoffer's observations on mass movements and fanaticism. Nazism, Communism, socialism, and early religious movements were topics that this classic book examined and critiqued with scrupulous research and poignant observations.
Owing to a life lived mostly in poverty; Hoffer's comments on the human condition are particularly astute. Hoffer's life was full of obstacles: blindness, loss of his parents at an early age, growing up in a new country without access to education, a lifetime of manual labor and subsistence wages. And yet, this self-educated man has left an indelible mark on all that have read his writings and consider his brilliant thoughts on a wide range of cultural, philosophical and political topics.
As a student reading “The True Believer", I did not realize the lasting effect it would have on my life. Hoffer observed that the struggle to survive, at its most elemental, offered the best promise of a lifetime of fulfillment. The man who must work, must harvest, must create is most satisfied. Man with plenty has too much time to reflect, regret and criticize.
I have been a serial entrepreneur all of my working life. Currently I work with small businesses, inventors, and entrepreneur's to commercialize new product ideas. Each of these individuals and company's possess an unintended compliance with one of Eric Hoffer's most prescient observations: “It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into opportunities".
Every time a new technology, product or service is commercially successful an opportunity has overcome an obstacle that the inventor has identified, analyzed and conquered. The world becomes a bit more comfortable, more beautiful, healthier, or a bit safer as a result. It is hard wired into all successful entrepreneur's that there are answers to problems that others can not identify or address.
For the last 40 years, I have read and re-read “The True Believer" more times than I can count. I don't think there is another book that I have ever fully re-read. Each time I pick up this amazing work I learn something new, fresh perspectives and concepts that I can apply to my personal and professional life.
Obstacles represent opportunity. Identifying problems and needs is the first step necessary to providing answers that commercially benefit consumers. As Eric Hoffer so correctly observed, we are “most uniquely human when we turn obstacles into opportunities".
Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.
After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B. A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.
Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (http://www.duquesamarketing.com ) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.