Millions saw the apple fall, only Newton asked ‘why?’

Martin Zwilling writes an inspirational blog on a variety of issues impacting startups – here’s the link http://blog.startupprofessionals.com/ – and recently asked in his blog Do you have the intelligence to be an entrepreneur?

This set me thinking about some of the great innovators and their own entrepreneurship credentials, and how current startups mavericks like Elon Musk compare to those that have gone before.

As Zwilling states, many people feel that they just aren’t smart enough to be an entrepreneur, yet there seems to be no convincing evidence that a high IQ is a prerequisite for being an entrepreneur. We all know of successful businesses started by first-time entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, and according to many ‘street smarts’ (experience) tends to trump ‘book smarts’ (intelligence) every time.

Another perspective is that there are in fact multiple types of intelligence, and we all have strengths and weaknesses along all of these scales. It appears that most successful entrepreneurs are those with the broadest range of skills and experiences, while a depth in any given discipline is not so important.

Zwilling identified the eight most commonly recognised intelligences that cover the potential of most humans, prioritised by applicability to the entrepreneurial role:

Word-smarts (linguistic intelligence) People with a high linguistic intelligence display a high facility for word usage and languages. They are typically good at communicating ideas. Good entrepreneurs need these skills to lead a team, sell ideas to customers and investors and write strategies.

People-smarts (interpersonal intelligence) These attributes are the embodiment of social skills. Entrepreneurs with high social skills interact more effectively, they are able to sense the feelings, motivations and temperaments of others, to enlist their support and negotiate effectively.

Self-smarts (intra-personal intelligence) Intra-personal intelligence is the capacity to understand your own strengths, weaknesses and motivations, and to capitalise on these insights in planning and strategy.

Number-smarts (logical-reasoning intelligence) Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to calculate, quantify and think logically. Entrepreneurs use strengths in this area to balance their passion for a specific solution and to develop the specific steps and financial resources required for building, rolling out and scaling the business to success.

Nature-smarts (naturalist intelligence) This sort of environmental and cultural insight is rooted in a sensitive, ethical and holistic understanding of the world and its complexities. Good entrepreneurs use this to see new markets first, predict trends and devise effective marketing campaigns and demographics for focus.

Picture-smarts (spatial intelligence) Spatial intelligence is the ability to think in three dimensions and the ability to visualise with the mind’s eye. Core capacities include mental imagery, spatial reasoning and an active imagination. It’s easy to see how this is important for entrepreneurs in solution design and product branding.

Body-smarts (kinaesthetic intelligence) This intelligence involves a sense of timing and the perfection of skills through mind-body coordination. Business entrepreneurs who good at building innovative new products are especially strong in this area. Strengths here also lead to leadership presence.

Music-smarts (musical intelligence) Musical intelligence is the capacity to discern pitch, rhythm, timbre and tone. In addition to being key to any business directly or indirectly related to music, this skill helps entrepreneurs to be better listeners. Music-smart people also tend to be logical.

An interesting analysis by Zwilling, which profile can you identify with? Where does your intelligence manifest itself?

Reflecting on my own strengths, then I can identify with the ‘number-smarts’ detail above. Indeed, one of my clients last week acclaimed me as a genius with numbers, as I’d prepared a complex but user friendly financial model that gave her a financial map of her business model canvas. I smiled and replied that the accolade of ‘a genius with numbers’ belonged to one man – Isaac Newton – who had always been someone I revered. Newton’s thinking was undoubtedly the mark of a hugely intelligent genius, in the language of mathematics.

It has been said that the main difference between a genius and an ordinary man, is only that a genius knows how to think, rather than what to think. Often the word genius is accompanied by words like creativity, or maybe it is their IQ, or some combination of the two that sets them apart from the rest.

Maybe there is more. Geniuses look for entirely new concepts and believe that anything is possible – traits of entrepreneurs. It is this belief that leads them to approach problems in different ways – often they will see connections and patterns where the majority of us don’t – again an underlying characteristic of entrepreneurs.

So what makes a genius? Let’s look at Isaac Newton to see if we can identify some traits, and how we can learn from them to enhance our own entrepreneurial thinking styles.

Isaac Newton experienced a difficult and lonely childhood. His father, a farmer, died three months before he was born on Christmas Day 1642 at Woolsthorpe in Lincolnshire, and when he was two years old, his mother, Hannah, moved away to remarry, leaving Isaac to be brought up by his grandmother for eight years.

He was a thinker from a young age, making a working windmill driven by mice running around a treadmill aged eight. After Grammar School, his prodigious academic talent was recognised and in 1661 he went to Trinity College Cambridge.

Having dabbled in the study of alchemy, combining ‘the magical and the mechanical’, the first sign of his unique thinking style, by the end of 1666 he became the first to describe techniques for differential calculus, using his own definitions of ‘fluxions’. It was during this period too, when prompted by a falling apple, he compared the attraction exerted by the Earth at its surface with that required to keep the Moon in orbit, and the concept of ‘the universal law of gravity’ was born.

Not content with this, Newton then went on to conduct a series of brilliant experiments and he was the first to discover the true properties of white light, that it was composed of more basic rays, each of which had its own colour – the spectrum.

As a result of his endeavours, Newton was made a Fellow of Trinity College in 1667, but his academic career was only just beginning. Over the next few years he refined his mathematical research. Newton’s published his masterwork Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica in 1687, known as Principia. In this work, Newton stated the three universal laws of motion.

Principia is undoubtedly one of the books that changed the world. However, it’s a modest volume, about 6 by 8 inches, weighs about three pounds and consists of 512 pages written in Latin filled with mathematical problems, calculations and diagrams. Newton’s work was quickly recognised as that of a genius, and in 1703 he received the ultimate accolade in British science by being elected president of the Royal Society. He was knighted two years later.

Newton was a difficult man, working in solitude, prone to depression and often involved in bitter arguments with other scientists, but by the early 1700s he was the dominant figure in British and European science. He died on 31 March 1727 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Newton towered intellectually above his contemporaries as no other since – Einstein had his picture on his office wall – writing his own epic of scientific discoveries and contribution to mathematical thinking. Newton himself had been rather more modest of his own achievements, famously writing in a letter to Robert Hooke in February 1676: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Newton himself often told the story that he was inspired to formulate his theory of gravitation by watching the fall of an apple from a tree. Although he did not arrive at his theory of gravity in any single moment, watching the falling apple was his eureka moment – though not the cartoon version that the apple actually hit Newton’s head. It’s an enduring image, and following a period working in orchards in Oregon during his vagabond years, Steve Jobs named his company ‘Apple’ and the original logo was that of Newton sat under an apple tree.

So, let’s look at Newton’s genius, his ability to come up with ideas, and generate alternatives and conjectures like a modern day entrepreneur. Why are so many of their ideas so rich and varied? How do they produce the variations that lead to the original and novel? By studying the notebooks, correspondence, conversations and ideas of Newton, researchers have teased out particular common thinking strategies and styles of thought that enabled him to generate a prodigious variety of novel and original ideas. The following are thumbnail descriptions of strategies that are perceived in Newton’s thinking.

Newton looked at problems in many different ways. Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has spotted. Newton believed that to find a solution to a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways. With each move, his understanding would deepen and he would begin to understand the essence of the problem.

Newton used pictures to share his thinking. The explosion of thinking in the Newton was intimately tied to the recording and conveying of a vast knowledge in drawings, graphs and diagrams, also seen in the renowned diagrams of da Vinci and Galileo.

Newton was productive. A distinguishing characteristic of genius is immense productivity. Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents. He guaranteed productivity by giving himself idea quotas. His own personal quota was one minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months. Newton too was a prodigiously novel and disruptive thinker. In his yearning for Theory of Everything he sometimes worked 18 or 20 hours a day. This gargantuan capacity for work he continued for a quarter of a century when in his prime.

Newton made novel connections. Like a child playing with Lego, a genius is constantly combining and recombining ideas, images and thoughts into different combinations in their conscious and subconscious minds. Newton’s falling apple moment enabled him to combine differing concepts in a novel way, and as a result he was able to look at the same world as everyone else and see something different. Leonardo da Vinci forced a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water. This enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves.

Newton thought in contradictions. Geniuses think different thoughts because they tolerate ambivalence between opposites or two incompatible subjects. Because Newton could tolerate juxtapositions and variations, he was open to novel and ambiguous stimuli, and could see the hidden relationships that led to his spontaneous breakthroughs.

Newton made bets. Newton’s process was trial and error, a journey down many dead-ends that eventually gave him a solution. It is not luck, but creative insight of the highest order. Newton’s diaries show he often noted things as ‘interesting’ and wondered if it had potential. This curiosity of an unrestrained search for ideas led to his hypotheses or bets, which he would explore and ultimately prove.

Recognising these thinking strategies of Newton and applying them will make you more entrepreneurial for sure. Newton ‘knew how to think’, so adopt some of his ways to improve your own thinking – it will work.

Embrace the thinking of Newton in your every day approach to work and you’ll unearth new ideas to take your business forward. Give yourself 10% of the working week – that’s just one afternoon or morning – to thinking.

Millions saw the apple fall, only Newton asked the question. Newton made the most telling remark on the process of thought that I have ever encountered. It is also the simplest. When asked how he had come upon his theory of gravity, he said, By thinking on it continuously.

Ian Curtis – the habits & traits of creative genius

Thirty-five years ago today, it was Monday, 19th May 1980 and the John Peel show started at 10pm on Radio 1. Sat in my bedroom, I was thinking to myself, hope he plays the new Joy Division single, Love will tear us apart. After the iconic Pickin the blues theme tune by Grinderswitch, which introduced the show, faded, the customary ten seconds of absolute silence before John’s deadpan voice.

A few seconds later, the shock news came onto the air. Bad news lads, monotoned Peel solemnly. Ian Curtis, of Joy Division, has died.

I didn’t know whether to feel sad, angry, shock or cheated or what. Joy Division had been my favourite band for the previous year, part of putting Manchester on the map. Their bleak, stark, atmospheric experimental sound had carved a place for them into the record collections of many in 1979, including my own. Living just outside Manchester, they were big news for me and my mates.

May 18th, 1980 Ian Curtis ended his life, aged 23. The driving force behind Joy Division’s dark vision, he hanged himself in the kitchen of his Macclesfield home. He had epilepsy and was depressed. Curtis was known for his strong, baritone voice, dance style and songwriting filled with imagery of desolation, emptiness and alienation.

It was not his first suicide attempt. Curtis ended his life before he could feel the range of his influence. As the singer/songwriter for Joy Division, he wallowed in his own deep despair, peering into the dark underbelly of human existence. He wrote stunning lyrics from the pictures in his head, until he saw no purpose in living.

Factory released Love Will Tear Us Apart in April, and as a piece of music it has stood out years, surely everyone recognises the song immediately the first throws of the incessant, hollow drumming with pace launches the humming, driving guitars in the intro, before Curtis comes in with the vocals?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHYOXyy1ToI&feature=list_related&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9BJBiOddivXxWNavYgSXPDJ

So for me, an anniversary of the death of someone who at 17 was shaping my life, still resonates today with 95 digital tracks on my iPod and the Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Still albums safely stored in the attic, and all their Peel Sessions performances saved too.

Joy Division’s appeal has far outlasted their tragically short life because, if they were miserable, they did miserable differently. Curtis’s baritone voice and lyrics about personal anxiety, pessimism and intensely dark memories, combined with his intense, wide-eyed stage presence was unique. Curtis was a creative genius, an innovator in the new wave of musicians at that time.

If I think about creativity and what innovation looks like, the same slideshow of images clicks across my mind: that photo of Einstein with his unkempt hair all over the place, Edison with his light bulb, and in Steve Jobs onstage in his black turtleneck jumper introducing the latest iThing device.

For all the innovators who have impacted our lives, it’s not just about that romantic Eureka! moment, it’s about the nitty-gritty work that comes after the idea in terms of getting it accepted and implemented. Curtis may have been a creative driving force, the catalyst that had the original spark, but successful innovation is frequently about the team too, being surrounded by likeminded people with complimentary talents.

Thinkers need doers to get things done, and idealists need number crunchers to tether them to reality. Then again, the risk-takers and the risk-averse must co-exist otherwise an organisation veers too far to one extreme or the other, and either jerks all over the place with the push-and-pull, or simply moves nowhere at all. An effective and productive culture of innovation is like a good homemade vegetable soup – it needs to have the right mix and balance of all the ingredients, otherwise it’s unbalanced – and downright mushy.

Everyone is born creative, everyone is given a box of crayons early on. Then when you hit puberty they take away the crayons and give you books, on algebra and calculus (which I liked better than crayons, but that’s a different story). Suddenly years later when get the creative bug, you want your crayons back.

So you’ve got the itch to do something. You don’t know where the itch came from. You don’t know if you’re any good or not, but you think you could be. Go ahead and make something. Make something really special, something amazing that will really blow the mind of anybody who sees it.

If you’re creative, if you can think independently, if you can articulate passion, if you can overcome the fear of being wrong, then this is your time. Dust off your guitar, and sing in your own voice. Ian Curtis didn’t have the greatest singing voice or vocal range, but that didn’t stop him getting his lyrics out for the world to listen. While performing for Joy Division, Curtis became known for his quiet and awkward demeanour, as well as a unique dancing style reminiscent of the epileptic seizures he experienced, sometimes even on stage.

On Saturday May 17th, Ian cancelled arrangements to meet friends and returned to his terraced home in Barton Street, Macclesfield. Wife Deborah was working behind the bar at a local disco. While she was out Ian watched Stroszek, a film by Werner Herzog.

Alone again in the house, Ian listened to Iggy Pop and wrote a long letter to his estranged wife. In the early hours of Sunday morning he hanged himself in the kitchen using the rope from a clothes airer. His body was found by Deborah when she returned later the same day.

It has been claimed that Ian had a morbid desire to emulate those of his heroes who had died young. The most likely reason was depression, but no-one can agree about whether he was depressed by his epilepsy, by the effects of the drugs he was taking to control it, by the break-up of his marriage, or by worries about the forthcoming American tour.

A few days after his death, Ian’s body was cremated at Macclesfield Crematorium. Deborah Curtis had the words Love Will Tear Us Apart inscribed on Ian’s memorial stone.

Ian Curtis spent his short life as a genius, driven by anxiety, creativity and self-doubt. The way he created his music, despite being innovative, was methodical, he had a routine, was disciplined and ordered. He left several notebooks of his handwritten work, recorded in So This Is Permanence, reflecting a methodical approach to his art.

This disciplined approach surprised me, until a couple of years ago when I came across the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. In it he examines the schedules of 161 painters, writers, and composers, as well as philosophers, scientists, and other exceptional thinkers.

It hypothesised that for these geniuses, a routine was surprisingly essential to their work. As Currey puts it A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods. He noted several common elements in the lives of the geniuses that allowed them to pursue the luxury of a productivity-enhancing routine. Here are the highlights of structure, routine and habits that seem to enable a genius to do what they do:

A workspace with minimal distractions Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky door hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. Mark Twain’s family knew better than to breach his study door. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office, only his wife knew the address and telephone number.

A daily walk For many, a regular daily walk was essential to brain functioning. Soren Kierkegaard found his constitutionals so inspiring that he would often rush back to his desk and resume writing, still wearing his hat and carrying his walking stick or umbrella. Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks every afternoon and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck.

A clear dividing line between important work and busywork Before there was email, there were letters. It amazed me to see the amount of time each person allocated to answering letters. Many would divide the day into real work (such as composing or painting in the morning) and busywork (answering letters in the afternoon). Others would turn to the busywork when the real work wasn’t going well. Ernest Hemingway always tracked his daily word output on a chart ‘so as not to kid myself’, but left dedicated time for letter writing.

A habit of stopping when they’re on a roll, not when they’re stuck Hemingway puts it well: ‘You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.’ Arthur Miller said, ‘I don’t believe in draining the reservoir, do you see? I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.’

Limited social lives One of Simone de Beauvoir’s friends put it this way: ‘There were no parties, no receptions, no bourgeois values; it was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work.’ Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Fernande Olivier borrowed the idea of Sunday as an ‘at-home day’ to enable undisrupted painting, and kept themselves to themselves.

This last habit, relative isolation, sounds much less appealing to me than some of the others, and yet I still find the routines of these thinkers strangely compelling, perhaps because they are so unattainable for me, so extreme. Even the very idea that you can organise your time as you like is out of reach for most of us.

Nancy Andreasen is a leading neuroscientist, holding a fascination in how the brain works. Andreasen studies what she calls ‘the science of genius’, trying to unpack the elements that make up the brightest creative minds. It’s not a high IQ that indicates creative genius, she’s found. In her research, Andreasen has explored the link between mental illness and creativity, finding a strong connection between the two.

In a 2014 study, Andreasen scanned the brains of 13 of the most famous scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers alive today. Her subjects included Pulitzer Prize winners, and six Nobel laureates – and filmmaker George Lucas. Andreasen delved into their family and personal histories, also studying the structural and functional characteristics of their brains using neuroimaging.

The study was challenging given how hard it is to pin down the creative process. “Creativity, of course, cannot be distilled into a single mental process, and it cannot be captured in a snapshot—nor can people produce a creative insight or thought on demand,” she stated.

Andreasen had to find a way to study these creative minds at work. She hooked them up to an MRI scan and gave them different word association, picture association, and pattern recognition tasks. ‘The essence of creativity is making connections and solving puzzles’, she said. In her findings she has distilled some key patterns in the minds of creative geniuses. They include:

Creative people like to teach themselves rather than be taught by others Think of all the creative geniuses who dropped out of school – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. Andreasen found that her subjects were autodidact, they preferred figuring things out independently, rather than being spoon-fed information.

Because their thinking is different, they often express the idea that standard ways of learning and teaching are not always helpful and may even be distracting, and that they prefer to learn on their own.

Many creative people love both the arts and the sciences There’s a mentality out there that you have to choose between either the arts or the sciences in your studies and career, but Andreasen found that some of the greatest creative minds are polymaths, sharing a love for both.

Creative people persist against scepticism and rejection When you’re coming up with new unheard-of ideas, you’re pushing against the status quo. Rejection and scepticism are inevitable. It’s what you do in the face of those that matters most.

Andreasen found that creative geniuses are resilient when presented with such scepticism. They have to confront doubt and rejection, and yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. What this persistence might breed, however, is psychic pain, says Andreasen, which can manifest as depression or anxiety.

Creative geniuses have poor ideas too Creative people have lots of ideas, but that doesn’t mean all of them are worth pursuing. Part of what comes with seeing connections no one else sees is that not all these connections actually exist. Still, a willingness to go after those ideas, to try them out, to resist the scepticism of others around you in order to find out if they are great, is essential.

We may never know precisely where creativity comes from, why some people use their creativity more than others or why some people are most creative during specific times in their lives. We may not learn how one person ends up with the right balance of brainpower, intelligence and creativity to become a genius.

To me, part of creativity is picking the little bubbles that come up to your conscious mind, and picking which one to let grow and which one to give access to more of your mind, and then have that translate into action.

It also seems you need to create the right conditions for your own creativity to flourish, as suggested by Currey. However, that of course is what a routine really is, the path we take through our day. Whether we break that trail ourselves or follow the path blazed by our constraints, perhaps what’s most important is that we keep walking. So don’t let a new dawn fade, I’m sure you’ll find some unknown pleasures in your creativity and make your mark.