Where are they hiding? I am referring to the current era’s equivalent of Newton, Edison or Einstein….have we truly seen the extinction of individual magnificence wherein the individual had the exemplary ability to positively impact the world single handed?
Ever since stumbling upon an article this week on “Group Coherence”, as part of my discovery of applying Agile principles to software development and management, I have been thinking if as a society we have started favoring group achievements over individual brilliance. For long, I have heard that teamwork is essential and the most key ingredient to success, which I do not disagree with even for a bit. Also, lest I am construed as favoring prima donnas, my position on this is far from it.
Rather, I am left wondering how much of an impact the evolution of mankind has had in the past century in moving away from celebrating individual achievements to relishing team backed successes.
There are definitely individual beacons still around in every industry – the folks that have made a name for themselves through their own sheer hard work or by channelizing the genius in them towards making hallmark accomplishments. But they are also far and few between, and none that can walk or talk on the same plane as the fathers of every field of science or medicine, as we have come to call them.
I am reminded of an anecdote where Einstein’s chauffeur apparently chided him once that questions posed to him after his lectures were so simple that even he could answer them. Einstein offered his chauffeur to take his place on the stage for the next lecture because people then didn’t know him by face all over. Apparently so intriguing was this experience for the chauffeur, upon being posed questions, that he told the audience “since these aren’t worth my while, I will ask my chauffeur who’s sitting in the audience (the real Einstein) to address these”!!!
Looking beyond the presence of mind and the intellect that even Einstein’s chauffeur possessed, this brings up a very important aspect of the society then – individuals were celebrated but the real glory went to the work and the person doing it was more of a medium that they saw the work through. This explains the anonymity of the face, but not the name.
My reasoning for our current situation is as follows: since the era of the Newtons and the Edisons, over time, we have probably moved to a point where the individual got more prominence than the work itself. Now, the course correction in our evolution kicked in and we are balancing it by going to the other extreme of not looking upon individual brilliance on the same footing as much as we delve upon ‘group coherence’.
Every scientist that shares something valuable to the world now has a research team behind him or her; every innovation we see has a group associated against it, even a cursory glance at the recent history of patents I have been looking at from the US Patent and Trademark office has a whole list of names on each one, and the list goes on…
I am not immune to this transformation either: I have also been touting the team spirit horn on my teams at every available opportunity. For me the awakening has begun. For the benefit of getting others to jump on this bandwagon, let’s look at it this way: there was never a better time to reevaluate our perspective on individual achievements and our broad reactions to it.
Make no mistake – playing by the team and working as part of a larger ecosystem is more important today than ever before, but let us consciously make an attempt to encourage and reward individual brilliance as well.
Image Credit: Cliff 1066