Friday, August 12, 2011

Think Different

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify and vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Inspiring commercial and ad campaign from Apple. A great success in 1997, it took the public by storm and won critics over. It heralded the return of Steve Jobs, and it ushered in a revolutionary first decade of the 21st century for Apple. Think: iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. Jobs’ name or image is nowhere in this commercial. Yet, like him or not, he unquestionably belongs among the luminaries captured here.

It isn’t easy perhaps for many of us to think differently. It requires us to break conventional wisdom when looking at things and drawing conclusions about events. Nassim Taleb, author of the book The Black Swan, spoke at length about the foibles of human thinking. For example, psychologists or consultants are wont to identify the traits that make a particular leader successful, say, strategic in thinking, engaging of others, and driven toward results. We believe, then, that if we acquire these traits, we can and should be successful, too. What these experts sometimes forget is what Taleb calls “silent evidence.” What about those leaders who had these very traits, but who failed? They may be far from the limelight, if their failures weren’t at all colossal, relegated into the dusty annals of those who couldn’t ‘cut the mustard,’ and therefore deserve not to be acknowledged or studied. So, to think differently means, among a number of things, weighing things that stand out and also things that don’t. Doing this makes us appreciate, I believe, how extraordinarily difficult it can be to achieve the levels of success portrayed in this Apple ad campaign.

Let’s unpack that inspiring quote above, shall we, and let me add to its short list of luminaries.

“They have no respect for the status quo.”

Sigmund Freud.  Indeed he dared to cut against the grain of 19th century Victorian Europe, by delving into the sexual and aggressive drives within us. Yes, some dismiss or otherwise vilify his views, but there’s no denying his impact on culture and insight into people. For example, these drives percolate in our unconscious, and can prompt us to act irrationally or impulsively. Indeed he argued, provocatively, that we as people weren’t even masters of our own ‘house’ (mind and body). Rather, it was the id and these unconscious drives.

“They push the human race forward.”

Charles Darwin. Through astute observation and painstaking study, he gathered the pieces of a colossal framework to explain the evolution of life. Adaptations over generations vis-a-vis the environment resulted in remarkable changes in the shape, function, and appearance of life. Moreover, he had the gall to suggest that the human was cousin to the chimp and that, with modern scientific discoveries, both human and chimp had a common ancestry in the fish! Evolution was what brought about and pushed the human race forward, not creationism, he argued.

“To think that they can change the world.”

Nicolaus Copernicus. The Ptolemaic view of the universe survived for centuries. It was a geocentric one, with the earth as the cosmic center. Copernicus had a radically different notion. He was greatly reluctant to publish his findings, for fear of criticism, censure, perhaps even death, from government and church authorities. Still, as Galileo succeeded him, there was ultimately no denying that Copernicus was right. That our universe was in fact a heliocentric one and that the earth was simply one of numerous celestial bodies revolving around the sun. What a blow to the ego of humankind, its world having changed before its very eyes!

These three, plus the Albert Einstein, the Amelia Earhart, the Pablo Picasso et al. captured in this Think Different commercial, are exceptional individuals indeed. Rare visionaries and talent, with whom, like it or not, we are gifted. The vast majority of us belong to an average lot, in contrast. Still, I believe that in our small ways, in our daily lives, we can think differently and consequently solve problems, make changes, and fashion things for the better for others.

In what ways have you thought differently about things, and what were the effects of doing so?

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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