News and Tribune


April 11, 2014

STAWAR: The million dollar idea: The quest for FIM

— Georgia psychologist Robert Wildman, once wrote, “The great philosopher of science Wike has shown conclusively that the aim of the true scientist (TS) is not the quest for truth (QT) but the quest for Fame, Immortality and Money (FIM).”

Wildman contended that epitome of FIM was having some phenomena named after you, like the “Peter Principle,” “Ponzi Scheme” or in Wike’s case, “Wike’s law of low odd primes (WLLOP).”

Nonscience types have other names for such pursuits, like the “get-rich-quick scheme” or the “million dollar idea.” America has always been known as a land of opportunity and with its tradition of social mobility and a free market, it is the perfect environment for fledging entrepreneurs.

Get-rich-quick schemes have long been a staple of popular culture, although they often involved scams or swindles that are not usually part of the scientific quest for FIM. Such schemes were the main theme of the classic Phil Silver’s (“Sergeant Bilko”) television show. On “The Honeymooners,” Ralph and Norton were always getting involved in foolish deals and on “I Love Lucy,” Lucy once sold salad dressing, which cost her more to make than she charged. And of course there was my favorite schemer — Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction.

The popular “Big Bang Theory” television series featured the character Penny trying to turn home-made hair barrettes, called Penny Blossoms, into a profitable home-based business.

Even cartoon shows are not exempt. About 20 percent of “Flintstones” episodes contained get-rich-quick schemes, as well as 90 percent of episodes of the contemporary cartoon series “Ed, Edd, n Eddy.” Of course it was Homer Simpson who said, “After years of disappointment with get-rich-quick schemes, I know I’m going to get rich with this scheme ... and quick!”

At one of my first jobs at a mental health center in Florida I was surrounded by a number of people seeking a path to FIM. Dale, a social worker devised a mental health board game and Malcolm, a psychologist, created a do-it-your-self kit for treating migraine headaches. It involved aquarium thermometers and a cassette of instructions, recorded by a local announcer who Malcolm had hired. I had a written a series of stories for children intended to be used by therapists to treat common behavior problems such as fighting, lying and stealing. I named the collection Fable Mod — a combination of “Fable” and “Behavior Modification.”

All of this evolved into a fierce competition to see whose idea would be the first to actually make money. Dale’s game never made it to market. We played a mocked-up version and it was fun, although a bit too boring for the general public. Malcolm invested considerable money and produced several hundred migraine kits. He only sold a few and as I recall there were dozens of boxes of them stashed in his garage.

As for my stories, I eventually signed a contract to get them published, but they never made it to print. I resisted the temptation to spend $5,000 to get them published, but I got to keep a $300 advance. On that basis, I declared myself the winner, although $300 wasn’t exactly FIM.

Many folks try to capitalize on their “million dollar ideas” through business start-ups, but for every Google and Facebook there are countless less successful enterprises. My older brother sought his FIM starting a barbecue stand featuring pigs’ snouts. Another colleague, Leo, did fairly well raising horses and growing fern, in contrast to a fellow I knew who was convinced that he would strike it rich with his collection of vintage Avon bottles.

Self-publishing is another expensive and risky way to seek FIM, but many people are inspired by the rare success story, such as “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” It is sort of like how gamblers are motivated by the lure of the elusive big jackpot.

Chicago psychologist Patrick McGrath says that get-rich-quick schemes are often enticing and occasionally successful, but “more people have lost their money trying to get rich quick than have made money doing so.” McGrath suggests maintaining healthy skepticism, doing your homework and paying your dues. Even then, a Kauffman Foundation survey of entrepreneurs revealed that 73 percent of them cited “good-luck” as a major factor in their success.

With Indiana access to the Big Four Bridge coming soon, a number of new businesses are opening, all hoping to capitalize on the expected influx of people. Each new enterprise represents someone’s dream and their quest for FIM.

I feel sad when I see a closed small business, knowing that someone’s dream was crushed. It always reminds me of a little Italian bakery that we went to in Florida that closed after a year or two. It seems that the nice young man who ran the bakery overestimated the public’s fondness for biscotti.

 I wish all the new ventures luck, after all McDonald’s, Microsoft and Amazon all had to start somewhere. If not for such risk-takers, our world would be a poorer place, deprived of Hula Hoops, Beanie Babies, KFC’s Double Down sandwiches, Slinkys, Slankets, Ham Grenades and, of course, Fable Mod.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at Checkout Welcome to Planet-Terry at

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