There was a time when we celebrated original thinkers. We understood that people who see the world differently, who express contrary opinions, who refuse to accept the accepted wisdom, who challenge our perceptions and who, often through nothing more than blind self-belief and sheer force of will, force the rest of us mere mortals to think the unthinkable, are the very essence of what makes the human race the masters of all we survey.
The history of progress is packed full of such people. Galileo, Columbus, Newton and Einstein right through to a whole host of modern day “Steves” – Jobs, Hawking, Wozniak to name three. Without “Steves” we would all still be sitting in our caves, catching our own food, cooking it on an open fire and wondering what marvels lie on the other side of “that there hill”. In a world where we readily accept many things that we can’t explain and don’t understand, it is the Steves that we rely on to find the knowledge and understanding that we all crave.
So what’s my point? It is this. Business is a microcosm of this bigger picture. Many of us can prosper and live very nicely by continuing to do the things that we know work – following the accepted wisdoms, believing what we are told by our betters and doing everything by the book. And since most of us crave comfort even more than knowledge, that is just fine for almost everyone. But what I have seen with my own eyes over the years is that the business superstars – the ones who grow and prosper through the good times and the bad and over-achieve in ways that most of us can only wonder about and aspire to – have all the best traits of the Steves. They do things differently, they challenge the norms and they don’t listen to the naysayers who wish they would just happily continue to cook their fresh sabre-toothed tiger outside their cave.
My worry is that Steve is a dying breed. That in a world where anything that can’t be explained in one sentence gets simplified and distorted and where seeking offence where none is intended has become almost a pastime, Steve (or that should be David really) will no longer be allowed to fire his slingshot at Goliath. When he says the earth isn’t flat after all or wonders why the apple fell on his head or even asks why we need to listen to music that comes in a box from an expensive record shop that he will be shouted down, ignored or worse still hounded into submission.
We are all guilty of this. What did you think last time a bank announced it had made a profit? Or an oil company? And yet the alternative would be for them to make a loss, employ fewer people, pay less taxes and ultimately fail. It is present in all our current reporting of tax avoidance. It is there when we force anyone that expressed a controversial opinion to apologise for the “offence” they have apparently caused. It is there when anyone dares to suggest they might be a better way to provide healthcare than the NHS? Time and again original thinkers are beaten into submission. Having said all that I do hope my children aren’t reading this. I want them to be a Steve but they will still bloody well go to bed when I say and do as they are damn told or else!