Contrarians & Outlaws

Our future is, as our past informs, in the hands of contrarians and outlaws (C&Os).  Quantum breakthroughs start with breaking rules and venturing in the opposite direction of conventional wisdom.  This is not hyperbole; it is reality.  If you don’t believe me, please name one great idea, invention, product or service that was born by doing the expected according to the existing norms of the day.  You will quickly find that it is much easier to identify the greatness of the C&Os—of those who thumbed their nose (or other singular digit) at the world and pursued a belief, passion, or wild hair at their own peril.  By doing so C&Os benefit us all, and we sooner or later accept their feat as a new norm.

C&Os are not defined by gender, race, ethnicity, heritage, or religion.  They may or may not be handsome, elegant, or even well educated.  Their common bond is one thing: they reject the status quo.  They question the givens.  They foresee lives made better by re-imagining the world in which they live.  Then, against the advice of experts, they pursue their vision with reckless abandon.  Jesus Christ was a C&O, so was Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  From Galileo to Einstein and Edison, C&Os consistently rejected what everyone knew for sure and ended up changing our world.  Remember, a couple of thousand years ago, the world was flat, until Aristotle et al noted the spherical shadow of the earth as it passed across the moon. Humans weren’t meant to fly until Orville and Wilbur Wright—against the odds and the gods—proved otherwise.  Computers were supposed to be for governments and large corporations, until guys like Gates and Jobs—both college dropouts—put them in everyone’s pockets.

We could use a few more C&Os today.  Our so-called leaders have been ground into submission by conventional thinkers and know-it-all do-nothings.  They have fallen prey to what novelist and coffee-shop-philosopher Tom Robbins called tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision is caused by an optic fungus that multiplies when the brain is less energetic than the ego. It is complicated by exposure to politics. When a good idea is run through the filters and compressors of tunnel vision, it not only comes out reduced in scale and value, but in its new dogmatic configuration produces effects the opposite of those for which it originally was intended.[1]

Our future will not be secured in such tunnels.  It will perish in the darkness of overdone egos that play within the rules according to conventional wisdom.  Dark suits and conforming lapel pins do not define the fashion of innovation.  If we are to survive and prosper we must ignore their dictates, break the rules, and define new spheres of knowledge.  We must turn our backs on those who have forgotten how to dream—who have been compromised by convention—and forge a new world.  We must each summon our inner C&O.

[1] Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker (New York: Bantam Books, 1980), p. 117.
By |2017-05-25T19:00:27+00:00July 10th, 2010|General, Leadership|0 Comments

The Arc of Transcendence: From Fear and Loathing to Renewed Prosperity

As world order teeters between financial stress, the prospect of widespread war in the Middle East, and an acute sense of betrayal between voters and their elected representatives, we must—individually and collectively—look past the prevailing and perversely popular noise and move forward to secure our future.  This is not the time to sit idly by hoping that the actors and conventional thinking that combined to produce the current crises will somehow also magically produce their melioration.  Ironically (and thankfully however), the macro factors that are causing crises and disorder also reveal new modalities that promise pathways to higher levels of well-being—to renewed prosperity. But we must learn to make them work for us instead of against us.

In a recent jeremiad by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, wherein he calls for a miracle rebirth of personal responsibility, he also identifies contributing factors of emerging disorder while—perhaps unwittingly—illuminating promising avenues of success. He wrote,

Since the end of the cold war and the rise of the Internet, we’ve lost the walls and the superpowers that together kept the world’s problems more contained. Today, smaller and smaller units can wreak larger and larger havoc—and whatever havoc is wreaked now gets spread faster and farther than ever before.[1]

All true, but small units behaving virally is also how we will produce the innovations and form the necessary relationships to create a new future. Small units that wreak havoc can also organize intelligence, resources, and authority in new paradigms that might far exceed the values and wealth we fear are slipping into the abyss of current crises.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: creative intelligence is everything.  The same technology that enables the Internet and fosters the organization of small units in a seemingly organic fashion also enables the geometric rise of intelligence.  As Richard Ogle illustrates in Smart World, idea-spaces, formerly limited to what was in our heads and constrained by proximate resources, are now unbounded thanks to technology.  This allows our imaginations to “leap out ahead of knowledge and the path of analytical reason” toward new, seemingly unfathomable, realities.[2]  The great news is we have it within our existing capabilities and resources to create new paradigms, identities, and networks to not only survive our current crises, but to achieve a higher state of well being.  We must, however, become very aggressive in asserting our will.

First, the naysayers, merchants of venom, and those who are unable or unwilling to think or operate beyond conventional paradigms must be isolated.  They only make the bad worse.  This requires more than simply ignoring them; this requires exposing them, confronting them, and silencing them.  The time for tolerance is over.  At every opportunity, they must be told to “Shut up and get out of the way!”  Second, while we must acknowledge our current circumstances for what they are—to get past the denial trap—we must just as swiftly set them aside to avoid being addled by their grave narrative.  Third, we must re-imagine the world, unbounded by convention, to establish a new vision of who we are, what we want the world to look like, and most importantly, why?  As Richard Ogle argues, “to think intelligently is to create webs of meaning about how the world might be, and this is the work of imagination.”[3]  Fourth, we must attract and connect spheres of intelligence to produce new missions and mandates.  Finally, we must pursue our new vision with every ounce of energy and persuasion we can muster.  We must allow our creative intelligence its full expression.

Let’s prove Thomas Paine right again by showing we do “have it in our power to begin the world over again.”  Let’s start by unshackling ourselves from old ideas and those who wallow in self-interest, find power in fear, or promote disrespect.  If they win, we lose.  The arc of transcendence requires us to re-imagine our future, and align new spheres of intelligence, resources, and authority, to realize new levels of well being. This is not only possible, it is imperative.

[1] Thomas L. Friedman, “This Time is Different,” The New York Times, June 11, 2010
[2] Richard Ogle, Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007), p. 51.
[3] Ibid., p. 72.
By |2017-05-27T18:45:20+00:00June 14th, 2010|General|0 Comments
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