In the face of the failure of a perspective, Thomas Edison once optimistically said, “we now know a thousand ways not to make the light bulb.” Edison rightly saw these failed perspectives as a cost worth bearing.
Genius is a byproduct of a unique perspective. Everyday we choose perspectives– how we see and classify the world. Creativity and imagination permeate every great success of human history. One might assume that science and math are analytical subjects that do not employ the same imagination as a work of art. However, in the context of imagination, Salvador Dali and Sir Isaac Newton have more in common then one might think.
Science, in its most enlightened form, requires great vision and imagination. Sure, in school, these subjects seem concerned with the repetition of past knowledge such as learning the fundamentals of matrixes or how to balance chemical formulas. However, the extreme of imaginative insight can best be studied in the field of science. The origin and development of fundamental theories are the product of some sublime ability to question the foundation of the world we live in.
In a flash of imagination, Newton perceived that just as the apple falls, so does the moon, and indeed, all objects. The fact that the moon never reaches the surface of the earth while the apple does, was explained by the tangential motion possessed by the moon but not by the apple. This tangential motion continually accelerates the moon away from the center of the earth, at rate that balances the falling motion so that the orbit remains approximately a circle, at a very nearly constant distance from the earth. This theory of universal gravitation is not the product of recycled knowledge, but it involves an imaginative act of creation that stemmed from daring to explore a new perspective.
On the same note, one could focus on the work of Dmitri Mendeleev. He probably failed in organizing the periodic table as many times as Edison with his light bulb. Mendeleev created cards for each of the sixty-three known elements, each of which contained information about an element including its chemical and physical properties. Mendeleev then spent hours studying and arranging these cards, transforming the problem into a representational puzzle. Eventually, Mendeleev pinned the cards to the wall in seven columns, ordering the cards from lightest to heaviest. Only decades later, would the introduction of atomic numbers fully make sense of his discovery. However, he had the vision and the daring to listen to his imagination and create an entire new perspective. Mendeleev was not searching for an existing structure, but he was creating an entirely new one, an act of creation.
We may not all be Einsteins or Newtons or Mendeleevs, but we can all augment our personal intellectual capacity by harnessing the power of unique perspectives.
It is important to have the courage to argue ideas, even when they are not popular. If everyone just rattled off facts from a textbook or blurbs from Google, the capacity of human thought would aimlessly float through the lazy river of already formulated knowledge and discourse. William Deresiewicz, in his address to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October 2009, expertly articulates the importance of thinking for yourself.
“Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things…you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself.”
News publications that publish bias are catering to like-minded herds rather than individual thinkers. Social media like Twitter and Facebook are important and relevant tools. However, it is importance to be able to turn off the bombardment of other’s thoughts and be able to focus on one’s own mental alertness. You never know when that flash of understanding, or genius, might come.
I cannot resist including the Consider blurb that has patiently hovered over the content of this post. Consider Magazine, above all else, publishes perspectives. These perspectives may not all be politically correct or justifiable in many circumstances. However, if out of the amalgamation of these varied thoughts comes one completely original idea, one unconventional conversation, or one act of imagination, then it has fulfilled its mission.
The path to success and to innovation begins with a departure from the ordinary process of discursive thought. Only if we allow our minds to wander, to hit a few road bumps, and to reorganize the building blocks of our thoughts, can we hope to stumble upon that one idea, that light bulb of innovation that will change the world.
By: Leslie Horwicz
(Photo by Tanya Rogovyk)