I never had heroes when I was a kid. I was proud of it. It frustrated the teachers tremendously when I refused to name heroes. After much pressuring, I would give in and say my default, that my parents were my heroes. Now I have many heroes, but developing them was a long and difficult path.
Part of my resistance to heroes was my view of history as partially flawed. The details and errors of man are often washed away by sychophantic historians. I’ve had a few history teachers who you could see the sex oozing in their description of long dead historical figures. (Never the less, I think that History is one of the most important subjects to learn, and it is one of my personal favorites.)
The other part of my hero-resistance was from reading the novel Dune when I was in third grade. Dune is in part a parable against saviors. This book always cautioned me against subduing my own talents and judgments in service to a leader.
These two viewpoints caused me to live for the longest time without heroes. Eventually, I realized my apprehension was unfounded. And I can benefit from admiring heroes by using them as models for ideal behavior. Seeing this, I have developed a pantheon of historical figures who I have chosen as important to me, and representative of my personality. I now have a collection of portraits above my desk of these heroes.
The first is Nikola Tesla, one of the fathers of the modern electrical world. Genius is the fortune of aligning knowledge and passion. Tesla was a perfect alignment. I have the pleasure of owning a book of his patents, and whenever I wish to be humbled, I go and look at the quantity and quality of his body of work. He was not without flaw however, and he had a terrible business sense that left him in destitution at the end of his life. I want my passion and knowledge to be so synchronous.
The second is Charles Lindbergh. He was the Neil Armstrong of his time. So famous that they named dances after him. I want to be famous like Lindy.
The third is Alexander Graham Bell. My admiration for him is not actually for his invention of the telephone, but for his work on the problem of flight. He was a contemporary of the Wright brothers, and he took a different development path to making airplanes. He ended up building huge tetrahedral kites to experiment with the dynamics of lift and control. You can see some pictures of these gigantic kites here. I love his affinity for experimentation.
The fourth is Amelia Earhart. Like Lindbergh, she was a daring pioneer of the most cutting edge transportation of the time. She pushed the envelope and was famous the world over. That, and she defied the sexism of the time. I would like that bravery.
The fifth is Peter Drucker. Drucker invented modern management theory. Many people still try and run companies like they’re factories or farms, with autocratic styles and rigid structures. Drucker pointed out we are now in the age of the Knowledge Worker. Making our transition from knowledge, not resources being wealth, is so mind-blowingly huge, we haven’t figured it out yet. I would like to be able to describe our world as eloquently as he does.
The sixth is Buckminster Fuller. Bucky taught me how to think again. There was a time when I was severely depressed, and one effect of that depression was a curtailing of my mental capacity. I could only recall events from a week ago, and any challenging thinking eluded me. At some point, after my recovery, I began reading Synergetics, which was a geometric system that he developed over the course of his career. It is extremely thick, but I finally understood it. As a result, I can visualize complex geometry in my head, and it effects all of my thinking. Fuller, was the first of my recovered heroes. He was so optimistic for the world, he could see our potential and did what he could do to foster it. I would like to do the same.
May 4, 2008
I was recently thinking about criticism after I read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” In one of the early chapters, the author posits that criticism is essentially useless. It does not effect change. This got me thinking as to why we criticize.
Criticism is a social dominance issue. By pointing out error I establish myself as superiorly informed and motivated. My rightness is established and someone’s incorrectness is compared to my rightness. So criticism is an issue of status. Through criticism, I lay you lower than myself. This behavior is also useful for creating cohesion in a team, by criticizing opposition, you can bond your own group tightly.
On the other hand, authentic praise points out someone’s superior virtue, but can result in two paths for the praiser. The praiser can use authentic praise to raise a person up, and lower themselves. This form of praise is no different from criticism. The alternative, is to reveal the praiser as skilled in observation and a facilitating the good in others. Thus, both are raised up.
The act of praise sets a person up as an inspiration to themselves. You cast a positive image of them, which gives them something to move to. Criticism casts something to head away from. Generally, the carrot ahead is better than the stick behind.
I also read recently how status is a more powerful motivator than money. I came to the same conclusion when I was trying to figure out how to structure incentive in teams. I kept coming back to the conclusion that if you are going to make gross simplifications about motivation, all incentives could be abstracted to status. Money, sex, possessions, and influence are conduits for status. Accentuate authentic praise and you’ll improve everyone’s sensation of status. Considering that in groups of monkeys status can be a major factor in health, than you’ll probably be on a very nice path.