Herb grew up in a small wooden house. The original structure was fourteen feet by twenty feet and was built with $50 worth of used lumber. Just before he was born, a ten foot by twelve foot addition was added. Out back was a barn for the cattle, but there was no room for the tractor. There was also an outhouse. At the front corner of the house was a sickly looking orange tree. There were no flower beds. Three mesquite trees and a hackberry tree grew in the front yard.
From money he earned chopping cotton, Herb saved up $35.00 and bought a chicken coop that was mounted on skids. Soon he was in the chicken business. One day he asked his mother if he could dig the areas in front of the house and plant. He had even marked it off, laying out a two foot wide by 20 foot long flower bed, except for the step going up to the front door. He received permission and soon had the flower bed dug and seeds planted.
In about a week the seeds sprouted, and he took care of the tiny plants. One day his father looked at the plants and said they looked a lot like maize. (Maize is a common crop grown for animal feed. The red seeds are on a stalk on the top of the plant.)
Herb admitted that he had planted maize.
“Well, why are you planting maize in a flower bed?”
“I need chicken feed.”
“You should have dug up another area to plant the maize. Flowers belong in front of the house.”
The neighbors loved to stop and look at the maize and make comments. They had a good time doing it, but it was very embarrassing to Herb. He had failed again because he had used logic and didn’t take the time to learn the strange custom of putting flowers in front of a house rather than a very productive grain crop. Meanwhile, Herb’s father gave him pointers on making the maize grow even better than it was growing.
Herb learned that the maize grew and produced as if it were planted in the correct place, so he learned that not all rules and customs need to be followed.
In developing new products, Herb listened to conventional wisdom that stated certain things would not work. He then ran tests and found that that conventional wisdom was wrong on a regular basis. He was then able to develop improved products with components that the competitors were not using. He was the first person to successfully use fly ash in stucco and mortar. Within a few years, other people were able to successfully use fly ash because they knew it could be done.
To this day, Herb chuckles about visiting a competitor’s booth at a trade show in 2001. Jim, their chief scientist and a long-term friend of Herb’s, was busy, so one of the young salesmen started telling Herb about how they had developed the technique of using fly ash in stucco and going on at length about the benefits of using fly ash. Herb just kept asking leading questions, and the young salesman just knew that he was going to make a big sale. Jim got freed up and turned around. He saw Herb and asked the salesman if he knew who he was talking to. The salesman knew Herb’s first name, and it did not mean anything to him. Jim said, “This is the man who invented the technology we borrowed to develop our products.”
The young salesman was embarrassed and wanted to know why Herb did not say anything. Herb said, “I learn more when I keep my mouth shut than when I keep it open.”