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.
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.