The Power of Outsiders
Today I’m hosting a 4-Man Intensive and before members come, they get a questionnaire. One of the questions is: “List 5 topics you know a lot about, that most people don’t know you know a lot about.”
I ask this question for a very specific reason: Cross-pollination between fields. I want to know what strengths they bring from other areas of life into what they do now.
That’s because the easiest way to innovate is to bring knowledge and strategies from one corner of the world to some other, completely different corner, where they can be directly applied and everything is brand spankin’ new.
When you do this, somebody ain’t gonna like it.
Case in point: Russian engineer Genrich Altshuller developed a method for innovation called TRIZ. TRIZ (pronounced “trees”) is a 40-step Swiss army knife for solving engineering problems, especially for physical products and devices.
The book 40 Principles: TRIZ Keys to Technical Innovation reports: “Scientists claimed that inventions were the result of accidents, mood or ‘blood type.’ Altshuller could not accept this. If a methodology for inventing did not exist, one should be developed… invention is nothing more than the removal of a technical contradiction with the help of certain principles.”
TRIZ was enormously effective. Altshuller’s efforts to empower Russian engineers with his method for systematic creativity eventually led him to write a letter to Josef Stalin.
The end result of his contributions was, he and his partner Rafael Shapiro were charged with “inventor’s sabotage” and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.
The person who is opposed to cross-pollination is almost always someone who is not doing their job. You don’t have to be a historian to know that scientific progress under Stalin was not exactly stellar.
Nevertheless TRIZ is now known worldwide as a highly effective tool for “systematic creativity.”
(The essential formula for my Intensives and Mastermind Groups is: Everyone in the room is an outsider to whatever industry YOU are in. It gives you the power of being an outsider within your industry, even though you’re not.)
Another outsider was Barbara McClintock, who was the greatest geneticist of the 20th century. In 1944 she discovered that if she damaged the DNA in a corn plant so that it could not reproduce, it would repair the DNA, copying code from other chromosomes and building entirely new structures if necessary. Then it would reproduce.
Nobody even imagined at the time that a plant could be “smart enough” to do such a thing. Such a theory flew in the face of Darwinian dogma, which dictated that evolutionary adaptation came from random copying errors.
McClintock’s work proved this was most emphatically not the case. But the response to her first presentations of this were met with such hostility, she stopped publishing papers for 20 years.
30 years later, she won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of “Jumping Genes.” Her picture is now on a US Postage stamp, which I have framed in a stamp holder in my office. To me, she represents the maverick, the renegade, the innovator who challenges existing dogma. One who shifts the atmosphere and leads the world into new realms of understanding.
“If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.” -Ghandi
When you’re a maverick, nobody understands you. You just know the truth in your heart and you follow your convictions anyway.
Which is worse: Standing by your convictions and not being understood… or coming to the end of your life and knowing you failed to take a stand?