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The genius next door

Steve Jobs truly was a diamond in the rough.  You need only look at his extensive list of accomplishments, his patents and his rise from an average existence to his becoming the man whose life so many are reflecting on today.

Despite his faults, (no, he was not perfect) his legacy will be that of a genius and a tenacious innovator who not only took the path less travelled, but made a new one when even that proved too worn for his liking.

I’ll admit to being a little uncomfortable with some of the tributes I’ve seen today, and the almost deification of the man by so many people that didn’t know him, and yet are speaking of him as if they have lost a close family member.  I was even uncomfortable creating my own cartoon about it today, because even though I knew my newspapers would want one, I don’t like memorial tribute style editorial cartoons.  Often overly dramatic, they do seem to be widely published, however, which is why I keep doing them.

Our society has become addicted to celebrity worship and mass emotional displays on social media.  People have been talking about how Steve Jobs changed their lives, how Mac computers changed the world, how without him, they wouldn’t be who they are today.  Yes, it’s true that your life would be different had Steve Jobs not created Apple.   But if the invention of a newer, better computer hadn’t come to pass, would you somehow be less than you are today?

Now forgive this tangent, but I assure you it is relevant…

Earlier this week, I read the story of 70 year old Daniel Schechtman, a researcher at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.  Schechtman is this year’s Nobel Prize winner in the field of chemistry for his work in discovering quasicrystals.  Now, I won’t pretend for a second that I have any knowledge about his work.  I barely passed high school chemistry.

But reading about his story, I found it fascinating that Schechtman was openly ridiculed, actually vilified for his discovery when he first suggested it in 1982.  His colleagues in the science community called him a disgrace, laughed at him, and booted him out of a prestigious research group for “bringing disgrace on the team.”

It took years before his work was recognized and you don’t find much better vindication than the Nobel Prize.  But, I wonder how many of his colleagues that dismissed him as a lunatic are now telling their friends how they believed in him all along.

So, it’s not the products Steve Jobs created that I find myself thinking about today, but the person he was almost 40 years ago.

I wonder what the reaction would have been in the beginning, if a young dropout Steve Jobs had told somebody at the local Hare Krishna temple where he went for free meals, that he would one day design computers that would change the way the world works and communicates.  Somehow I don’t envision a long line of eager investors.

Makes me wonder what the neighbors and colleagues thought of the bicycle repairmen, Orville and Wilbur Wright or the apprentice printer, Ben Franklin, or a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein who had a hard time getting noticed by his boss.

Steve Jobs changed the world.  Of that, there is no doubt.  He deserves our respect and admiration for his vision and accomplisments.  But it is easy to support someone after they have achieved monumental success, because it’s a pretty comfortable bandwagon.

And no, buying a Mac in the 80’s doesn’t count.

I’d like to meet the two or three people that believed in him early on, because those people change the world, too.  They do so by encouraging the dreamers, the idealists, the ‘different thinkers,’ when everyone else dismisses them as lunatics.

What if your own neighbor, or better yet, your neighbor’s kid, told you he or she was working on an interstellar propulsion drive that would be cost effective, have no pollution, could achieve light speed travel and would run on a microscopic amount of sea water, and it’ll be ready in 20 years.    I guarantee that there are thousands of people in the world right now working on ideas and innovations that sound just that surrealistic, and you might even know one or two of them.    Would you even consider investing your savings in that idea?  Probably not, but we’d all like to go back in time and give a few thousand bucks to a couple of computer nerds toiling away in their garage, wouldn’t we?

Yes, many of those people are probably nuts, but I would wager that more than a few of them are on the cusp of greatness.

It might even be you, and if it is, I wish you luck.  Don’t give up, and don’t listen to the ridicule.  Hopefully your eventual success might inspire people to believe in their own possibilities, because we all have greatness within us.  And if you can’t find anybody to believe in you, don’t stop believing in yourself.  Because that’s what it takes to be somebody like Steve Jobs, believing in your own potential even when nobody else does.

Success is all around us, and it starts with that simple belief.  That’s the message we should take away from his passing.  And in the time between the world paying tribute to your achievements when you die, there will be years of working hard when everybody else is taking time off.  Yes, we did indeed lose a visionary in our time this week, but there are millions more all around us, maybe even a few that 20 or 30 years from now, we’ll pause a moment to pay tribute to when they pass.  It might even be you.

But of course, you won’t be around to see it.  So don’t do it for any applause or recognition.  Do it for the reason in the cartoon.

3 thoughts on “The genius next door

  1. A well written, articulate piece. Thank you.

  2. I’m a regular visitor of your site and I love your artwork. In fact, most of the time I stop by it’s just to look at the pictures… and I never post comments. But your post today reminded me to stop and say thanks to folks like you, who inspire me with art, while you’re still around to hear the praise. I’m going to make it a point to say thanks to the other artists I follow as well. Not just today, but in general. Thanks Monty!

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