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We Need the Crazies

Entry 1961, on 2019-01-15 at 20:35:50 (Rating 2, Comments)

Occasionally a really special person comes along who makes a real difference in the world. Most people, even those apparently at the top in their fields, aren't really doing anything too extraordinary. Sturgeon's Law says that 90% of everything is crap and that certainly seems to apply to political and business leaders, top celebrities, and other highly conventionally successful people as much as it does to anyone else.

In fact these "really special" people are far more rare than just the top 10% (that is, those not in the 90% crap category). Actually, maybe only a few exist at any particular time, so that would put them in the top 10 (just throwing a number out there) out of 7 billion, or 0.0000001%.

So who are these people I am referring to? Well, I have a particular interest in science and technology, so those are the sort of people I pay most attention to. I don't care so much about politicians, business people, or people involved in the arts (pop and movie stars, for example) although I do recognise they are important too, but just not as much as my "special people".

When I am forced to think of a few examples, I immediately think of these from the past: Einstein, Newton, Socrates, Aristotle, Galileo, Edison, Ford, Leonardo da Vinci, Tesla, and more recently Steve Jobs, and currently Elon Musk.

I know a bit about three of the more recent examples I gave above - Tesla, Jobs, and Musk - but I am going to comment on the only living example (Elon Musk) in particular here. Maybe the thing which stands out the most to me about all three is their strangeness and their lack of acceptance of social, business, and behavioural norms, and that's why I think the opportunity these people offer is currently being wasted.

I'm a big fan of Joe Rogan's podcast, "The Joe Rogan Experience" - at least the interviews with scientists, political activists, etc, not so much the MMA, hunting, and stand-up comedy stuff (I'm sure that is also good, but it's just not in my area of interest right now).

Maybe Joe's most famous episode was the interview with Elon Musk. It was very obvious from the beginning that Musk is no normal human. Many people would say he is just strange, but I think it goes away beyond that. And famously Musk smoked some weed on that podcast (as well as drinking whiskey, if I remember correctly) so that wouldn't have helped much!

But this is exactly the sort of thing we need more of. So many people, when they get into a situation where their words and behaviour will be seen and heard by millions are too careful and reluctant to say anything too controversial. The JRE podcast had 90 million downloads a month about a year ago - and probably more now - and is one of the world's most popular podcasts, so it is a significant way for a person to get a lot of exposure, both good and bad!

Just as an aside, note that even the most popular TV shows don't get as big an audience as that, so it seems that podcasting is a significant force in the world today.

How many other CEOs of large public companies would talk like Musk did on the JRE and not care? Not many, I think. In fact, when I look at the intensely dishonest political correctness of the chiefs of other big tech companies (not mentioning any names here, am I Google and Apple) I find Musk a very refreshing change.

But he didn't even say anything which was that politically contentious, because maybe he's just not that interested in anything so trivial. And that makes me feel quite bad, because I used to be like that too. I never used to take any notice of politics, because it just doesn't really matter in the long term.

Political fashions change in cycles. For a decade or two free-market economies might be popular until it is realised they don't work, so the world swings back to more interventionist policies, then when they also fail the cycle repeats. The same happens socially: some stages of history are very liberal until it goes too far and more conservative or populist policies return, and the two endlessly cycle.

So any politician who makes changes based on either left or right ideals will probably have those reversed in a few decades. But scientists and engineers make discoveries and create stuff which is relevant forever, which is why I concentrated on those groups.

I think people like Musk are exactly what we need more of. By "people like" I mean someone who is different, who doesn't do what his shareholders, political leaders, or the public in general demand of him. I mean someone who will smoke weed and drink whiskey in public because he cares about deeper things than a superficial public image which is so carefully managed for so many others. I mean someone who creates new stuff - no matter how crazy - like high performance electric cars, new ways to get to space (and maybe Mars), tunnels under existing city blocks, and flame-throwers!

Would any of these ideas have got off the ground if they had been checked out by the accounting or PR departments of a large corporation first? I don't think so. And that is why we need totally irresponsible, crazy dreamers like Musk. People who, when they hear from bureaucrats that a project isn't viable, just want to do it even more. People who don't care too much what their company's share price is, or what a bunch of so-called marketing and business experts think.

It takes an extremely dedicated and courageous person to fight all the barriers in the way of true innovation today and Musk is one of the few who currently exist (in fact, the only one I can think of). But how much better would the world be if the next tier of people could also be allowed to take this path. By that I mean people with great ideas but who don't have the stubborn attitude and good luck that Musk had (the luck I'm referring to here is the way he was in the right place at the right time when he made his original money).

It would be so much better if more great ideas could be advanced without going through the mediocritisation process which inevitably kicks in once a large organisation gets involved.

Here's my idea. Every person gets the chance to try out an idea they might have once in their life. The government provides a million dollars to every person to develop their idea and see where it leads. But, a million dollars you say. Where would that come from? Well, according to my calculations it could easily be covered in the US by redirecting the military budget.

And eventually the system would fund itself, because any income from new inventions would be put back into the pool for future funding. Note that the inventor would not have any rights to income from his idea. That would be a deliberate feature of the system to encourage truly different concepts instead of those which are just likely to be profitable. I think the majority of people would still be happy to contribute even with no potential financial benefit, because it is exactly the people who just want to make some easy money I would want to discourage.

Just think what the world would be like if we had millions of ideas like Elon Musk's. Well, to be fair, maybe only a tiny fraction of all the ideas might be useful, but in the US that still means thousands. And the rest if the world should participate too, because the only reason I am concentrating on the US here is that is where Musk lives, and that is a country with an obvious massive military budget which could be diverted.

Human civilisation is underachieving because we have created a system which discourages true innovation, and blocks ideas from being advanced, and slows down development of new projects through layers of meaningless bureaucracy. We need a way to make use of all of the good ideas out there, instead of relying on the occasional exceptionally brilliant freak just getting lucky and acquiring enough cash that he can do what he wants.

And the crazier the person looks the better. Can anyone imagine an impractical, dope smoking, whiskey drinking, dreamer like Musk having any way to progress his ideas if he hadn't got lucky and made all that money earlier in his life? No, instead we have a class of mediocre managers, with no original ideas at all, in charge.

And we need the crazies to save us from that.

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Comment 1 (4985) by Anonymous on 2019-02-19 at 14:30:01:

I was sort of with you there, until you go the that crazy as million dollar stuff. WTF is that all about?

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Comment 2 (4986) by OJB on 2019-02-19 at 20:02:23:

Well, sure. I agree the million dollar thing was something I sort of made up on the spot and didnít necessarily think through too much. So thatís a fair call.

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