I have always been fascinated by people who challenge assumptions that are widely held by a dominant percentage of society, who are called insane, and then move humanity in a forward direction to a place and quality of life they have never known before. Where do their original ideas come from? Where does their strength come from as they stand against the masses who often criticize them, shun them and just plain believe them to be crazy? Where does their passion come from and how does it sustain them as they move their ideas and ideals forward until they are manifested into reality. Where does genius come from ~ are their brains wired from birth to challenge the beliefs of a world in which most of us are quite comfortable living or are they nurtured and educated into ways of thinking that lead them “out of the box” and into a world most of us can neither envision nor accept?
Throughout history, many of the people we would define as a creative genius, society would define as insane. I call them Rim Walkers. They seem to teeter between the world where the masses live and function quite happily in a world in which goals are defined by what others have that they want and a world that involves a leap of faith into the unknown void of a world that does not, and never has, existed. That world reminds me of the famous quote by Robert F. Kennedy, “Some men see things as they are and ask why? Other men see things that never were and ask why not?” Rim Walkers are the “Why nots?”
In the 70’s I was invited to the opening party for an exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The exhibit opening was honoring a group of individuals who were creative geniuses. Creativity: The Human Resource was a truly extraordinary exhibit honoring a group of individuals who changed our world. The opening gala was elegant and opulent honoring the Rim Walkers among us. The exhibit has been brought to mind lately with all of the publicity surrounding the death of Steve Jobs and his contributions to our world. I’ve decided to do a series of blogs striving to determine what we can learn from true genius. I begin with Steve Jobs…
In his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University Steve Jobs basically created a summation of “How to Live Before You Die” in 15 minutes. He presented three main ideas/stories. The first was to “connect the dots.” In brief, he advised us to follow our interests and intuition. Follow your heart. In essence, one cannot stand on the threshold of life and accurately define the perfect activities and events that will cause us to arrive where we are meant to be.
One cannot connect the dots looking forward. It is only in looking back that the dots of your life will connect. The example he gave was that after he “dropped out” of college he stayed on campus for another year and a half, slept on the floor in friends dorm rooms, cashed in bottle deposits to eat and “dropped in” to classes he felt passionate about. One was a calligraphy class. In trying to connect the dots forward, the question would arise, “I’m glad you are having a good time and passionate about this class Steve, but exactly how is this calligraphy class going to pay your rent and make you a self-sufficient, productive member of society?” Ten years later the knowledge and experience of that calligraphy class laid the ground work for creating the world class typography system that the soon to be released Macintosh computer, and later the PC would be known for. To be sure, this requires a leap of faith that throughout your life the dots will connect.
The second lesson, “follow your heart and your intuition.” “Do what you believe is great work and don’t settle for less. Doing what you love inspires you to move society forward. Put a dent in the universe with your power of vision.” Steve Jobs challenged us to say “no” to 1,000 things. Only in that way do we achieve true innovation.
Early in my life I aspired to be a professional photographer. I was trained and doing wedding photography. To nurture my interest in commercial photography and lighting I attended a seminar with one of the top commercial print photographers in the country. I remember him talking about building a big bonfire annually and burning his slides. The mouths of every audience member dropped open in horror. We were all sitting there thinking we could work for the rest of our lives trying to produce one image as good as his and he is burning these images. His reasoning was that if he kept them around and sat back telling himself what an outstanding photographer he was he could not move forward with new ideas and innovation. I think this is what Steve Jobs was telling us also.
We must always follow our hearts, passion and intuition forward. There is something inside of us that knows where we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to accomplish. If we listen to that voice the dots will connect in the way that will be most meaningful for us and the world.
Finally, at a point in his life where he had just beaten pancreatic cancer, he talked about death. He talked about waking each morning, staring at himself in the mirror and asking, “If today were the last day of my life, would I be doing what I am about to do today?” He advised, if there are too many mornings when the answer is “no” it is time to listen to that small voice within and move on. He described death as likely “the single best invention of life.” When we passionately invest in a project or idea and it fails to be what we wanted it to be, the death of that project will be one of the dots leading us forward to a world changing idea.
Two final thoughts from Steve Jobs, the Rim Walker:
“Don’t let the voice of others opinions drown out your inner voice and intuition – somehow it already knows what you were meant to be.”
“Don’t be trapped by the dogma which is living with the results of other peoples’ thinking.”