I am reading a NY Times story that zooms in on a question that has been waltzing around in my mind for weeks.
How did Citigroup get caught up to its eyeballs in subprime junk when one of the true wise men of the financial community, Robert Rubin, was embedded atop its management hierarchy? The same Rubin who attained Wonder Boy status at Goldman Sachs only years out of Harvard and Yale. The same Rubin who went on to rule at Goldman and top that by serving as the greatest Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton. The same Rubin who has Mick Jagger status with government and financial leaders around the globe.
Well, the Times piece fudges on the issue at hand – why didn’t Rubin stop the bank from its collision course with stupidity – when his alma mater, Goldman Sachs, turned one of the worst fiscal disasters in US history into a gold mine for its partners and clients.
Rubin’s argument appears to be that because he didn’t have the official title of CEO (the fact is, he held even more power of influence at Citi than the CEO), it wasn’t his place to speak up.
Let’s put this in perspective. Years ago, someone once told me that there were thousands of people as smart as Einstein. They just didn’t voice their theories. They kept them to themselves. They didn’t speak up.
I felt then, as I do now, that there is no such thing as a silent genius.
Unless you have a novel idea and the skill, the guts, the determination to put it forward, to air it out, to toss it to the world and see what the world thinks of it, you are no Einstein. You are no smart person. You are no force. You are no change maker, catalyst, mover of the needle, raiser of the bar. You are a piston in the machine someone else built.
In the history of the world, there has been but one Einstein. He was a beautiful anomaly. So I am not talking about making ourselves heard at Albert’s level. I mean in everyday life. In our jobs, our friendships, our arts, our passions whatever they may be and wherever they may emerge, unless we have epiphanies and then share them with our worlds, we are silent figures moving aimlessly on a stage someone else erected for a show someone else wrote.
It is possible to hide in life. To lurk in the shadows and say not a word of true value. To glide from birthday to birthday without causing a ripple. To say that you care immensely about world peace, the environment, the cinema, the underprivileged, business success. And to be the silent genius who says not a single original thing about any of it.
But you are a legend in your own mind. The fact is, wise people are dummies when there mouths are shut. All Rubin had to do was say “No,” and Citi would have been spared the loss of its prestige and its treasury. All we have to do is to take the ideas we have had for moments or for years – the time of gestation is immaterial – and act on them. Bring them to light and let the chips fall where they may.
It is said that all great people stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before them. One of the true super novas, Isaac Newton, acknowledged that. The same is true for all of us mere mortals. A chain of thought, aired by others before us no matter what we do or where we live, provides a platform for our own thinking and the action that brings that thinking to life.
But I think the chain is more than a platform. I view it as an obligation.
As long as we are blessed with brains and the ability to express what floats around inside of them, we are obligated to make our own voices heard.
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