Isaac Newton was born. And thus began the life of one of two of the most important scientists in history, the other being Albert Einstein.
But I’m not interested in their science right now. More so in their government service, or lack of it.
Allow me to explain:
In 1696, Newton became England’s Warden Of The Royal Mint. He answered his government’s request to apply the luminary scientist’s brand to the vexing problems then plaguing the British currency.
Einstein, who died the year Bill Gates was born, was asked in his senior years to. become the second President of the nascent state of Israel. The request was based on a desire to apply Albert’s unparalled brand to the Jewish state still struggling for stature and credibility in the world. Einstein declined on the grounds that he had “neither the natural ability nor the experience to deal with human beings.”
Both men made wise decisions. Newton proved to be exceptional as Master Of The Mint; Einstein would likely have failed as the strong and decisive leader Israel needed. He might well have been an uber case of rising to his level of incompetence. And then again, leadership had little to do with the request for Einstein to sit in the President’s office.
There are a number of profound issues inextricably linked in these circumstances. We see the exceptional continuum that is embedded in the progress of the human race when giants live, change the world, die and are then succeeded by the giants who come after them. Galileo goes into the ground and Newton crawls out of the womb. The connectivity is magical, mysterious, divine. It reveals how little we know about the grand scheme of things. It reveals how miraculous life is.
We also see the decision-making progress of gifted and driven people as they consider and accept or reject the opportunity to grow into new roles that are outside of their core strengths and, in Einstein’s case, their comfort zone. Newton moved fearlessly into the unknown; Einstein chose not to rise to the challenge. His refusal to do so was a step backwards for a larger than life icon. Even as a figurehead, his place atop the Israeli government would have been a majestic presence at a pivotal period of time.
On the most superficial level, but the central factor in the Newton/Einstein role reversal scenario, their choice as Master and President was based not on the men’s exceptional skills or their brilliance–those attributes shone when they sat alone, divining the mysteries of the universe.
It was about branding: Newton’s brand applied stature to the British monetary system; Einstein would have propelled Israel’s climb up the rankings of the world’s great nations.
Every day in business we talk about branding, focusing so often on colors, fonts and taglines. Branding is exceptionally important, carrying with it measureable equity. And yet it is often reduced to an exercise in aesthetics when it should be about trust, power, faith. As we grapple with the issues today, the development of great and enduring brands, we should view Newton and Einstein as the gold standard.
You won’t read that in their bios.