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Visionaries VS Pragmatists

Updated: Sep 9, 2018

Visionaries vs pragmatists. Artists vs engineers. Risk-takers vs rule-followers.

Everything is created in pairs, some mutually exclusive and some corollaries. In this case, one of the most common misconceptions is that the above things are mutually exclusive. They're not; they are corollaries. 

Every time some aspect of human life has been revolutionized, it's been when a wild idea took root in the practical. A 'crazy idea' stays on the fringe unless it gets packaged into something beneficial for a mass of people. In the same vein, the conservative no-risk type whose sole goal is to keep everything stable will eventually go extinct if they refuse to move with the ebb and flow of the times. 

Someone once questioned the genius of Steve Jobs by showing how everything he produced had actually already existed. Xerox Park already come up with Graphic User Interface in the 80's. A bunch of companies had made clunky MP3 players years before the iPod came out. And likewise, Microsoft already had a tablet idea before iPad. But the genius isn't just in the idea. It's in the practical and artful execution. What were those companies able to do with their idea? Nothing. You don't even know about them. People didn't even like technology: it was ugly. The genius was in the ability to merge idea and reality and make it look good at the same time. 

It's the same with the Edison vs Tesla debate. One of the major differences was that Edison would not entertain ideas that had no market viability. What's the point of an idea that would never get any traction with buyers? Who's paying the rent for the lab? This issue of pragmatism is a chief reason why Edison fired Tesla. JP Morgan decided to pick up the Serbian inventor and finance his lab, but when Morgan realized that none of Tesla's ideas could actually produce anything of direct value, he withdrew his funding. Tesla could no longer afford his lab and died destitute. (His alternative current system is used widely today, including at Niagara Falls.) But the point is, his refusal or inability to be practical cost him his ability to peruse his passion. 

One thing Jobs was criticized for was caring too much about look and design. Those critics were the biggest fools. The very reason his products latched on was that they were so beautiful to look at. It was a very simple, unified beauty. He merged ideas and realities then cloaked it style and design. 

Design is in fact extremely practical because if something looks good people will want to use it. How much revenue does Turkey make just because people want to see those gorgeous mosques in person hundreds of years after they were built.

The point is...that pragmatism and imagination are not mutually exclusive. You can promote both math drills and creativity in the same education system. I have this debate all the time. I believe in hard-work and drills. Then someone tells me "that's all short-term, I would rather they learn to use their imagination." Fool! They can do both! Actually, they *must* do both. The dichotomy of engineer vs artist has to be broken down. The boring-to-death engineer is not any less intolerable than the artist in la la land. I can't stand either. Success is in the merger.

Phil Knight is a great example of this. An accountant by trade, he is very stable but probably one of the more bland personalities out there. But he was driven by a burning passion for running. He was able to bring three amazing people together and they literally sparked the global fitness movement through his company: Nike. His old track coach thought of the waffle sole. His eccentric first employee came up with the name Nike after seeing it in a dream, and a random art student at the college where Knight taught accounting came up with the swoosh, probably a top three most iconic logos of all time (it was 1971; the designer charged $35). But he was only able to bring these together because he was well acquainted with the real world of trade and finance. Without this practicality, all those ideas would have just died. "There is no million dollar idea," Jobs said. "Only a million dollar execution." 

In sum, the extremes are the humanities without applicability and STEM without the liberal arts. The real trick is finding the sweet spot in the middle. 

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