Early in our lives, we are all handed a book titled “This is the way things are done.”
The dutiful read it and follow it to a T. The wise, the innovators, the change makers read it and then rewrite it with their own version of The Rules.
Recently, I watched a TV feature about a boy whose twin brother died. The tragedy tossed his own life into turmoil and depression. Just as he was spiraling into a point of no return, someone suggested that he visit with a pediatrican.
If the doctor went straight to the book and The Rules of the AMA, the boy would likely be another in a million sad stories today. But the doctor tossed out the book, asked the boy what, if anything, makes him smile. Surprisingly, he answered in an instant: “Baking.”
Without pausing for a second, this MD, this wise and creative woman, suggested that the young man begin baking cookies, furthermore start his own after- school business and to top if off she took $20 out of her pocket, handed it to him and announced herself as his first investor.
Today he is a young entrepreneur, with an accidental business and a new passion for life. I believe he will be a stunning success and make us all proud. I believe he has a rule breaker to thank for that. They don’t teach it in medical school. They shun it.
On the same show, Sunday Morning on CBS, I watched an interview with Van Morrison. Here is singer/songwriter who has thrived for a generation and a half. Who has gained admission to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and was personally inducted into The Song Writers Hall Of Fame by Ray Charles.
But most of all Morrison has been an entertainer who has complete disdain for the Book Of Entertainment. He is an introvert. He does not connect with his audiences. He feels it is more important to connect with his mind and his soul, even when thousands of paid fans are clapping their hands in the audience before him. He refused to attend his own induction at The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. He dislikes everything about fame except that it drives people to listen to his music.
There is zero spin in the man. The interview on CBS is painful. But he has made, and continues to do so, extraordinary music. That is his book. That is his rule. If he worried about the star power machinery that comes with every record contract, chances are good the music would have gone silent years ago.
If you live life by the book, you cut off the potential to learn the wonders and powers that we can stumble upon if we are open to adventure and discovery. No matter who we are and the extent of our education, there is far more we don’t know than what we do. We sit on top of the iceberg, often proud of our level of knowledge or expertise, and blind to all that is above and below us.
This Great Recession, as one of my sons calls it, is a crisis, of course, but also proof positive of how little we actually know. The allegedly best and brightest amongst us in finance and economics have no idea how to get us out the problem they caused. Why? Because they are doing it by the book. Looking to Keynes. Pursuing Adam Smith. Studying FDR. But these guys didn’t read the books, they wrote them.
Amongst the rubble of the GMs and the GEs of this 1929 redux, or close to it, or worse than it, will come a new generation of American heroes. Of virtual book burners. Of men and women who reject conventional knowledge, blaze new paths, find new solutions and in the process create accidental businesses and become random millionaires.
You won’t find them at Harvard or in The White House. They’re in the kitchen baking cookies.