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The Power of One

By Philip Humbert

I love eccentrics. I look for people who live life on their own terms, in their own way, people with a sense of who they are and where they're going in life. I've quoted Henry Thoreau's observation about those who "march to the beat of their own drummer." And this week, I have new reasons to praise the strengths of these strong individualists.

A friend, Debbie Mrazek, recently gave me Susan Cain's new book, "Quiet." I especially love the subtitle: "The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking." I strongly recommend the book.

Cain points to a long list of famous introverts, from Albert Einstein to Pablo Picasso. She emphasizes that creativity and innovation come from the mind and soul of people with the time and space and courage to think carefully. I love that!

She points to Stephen Wozniak ("Woz"), the Co-Founder of Apple. He was the engineering genius behind Apple. As a teen, Woz plaid with electronic components, imagined computers that never existed, dreamed of a connected world, and on Wednesday, March 5, 1975, he walked into a drafty garage and saw his first Altair 8800, a primitive almost-computer. Because he had done his homework, he instantly realized that his dream was about to come true.

It's a great story about an introverted, quiet young man playing with cutting-edge electronics. All by himself. Because it made him happy.

And for me, it's a particularly powerful story about the power of ONE PERSON to make a difference.

We live in a world that is in love with collaboration. Our kids study in pods (like fish?). The Corporate world is full of open-space teams and what Cain calls, "GroupThink." And, I suppose that is well and good. Who can object to working with friends, building a sense of community or pooling resources? I'm sure it's a good thing, in its own way.

But what of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel? Or Newton's Laws of Physics, or Tolstoy's War and Peace? Do you think any of these could have been done by a committee? Einstein developed his Theory of Relativity on his own, while riding the trains to and from his work in the Patent Office.

Could a team of speechwriters have written the Gettysburg Address? Lincoln did that by himself, in a few minutes, on a simple piece of paper, based on a lifetime of preparation.

Most of our greatest heroes achieved success by following their own instincts. Of course, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett built large businesses to implement and market their ideas, but we particularly admire them because, first and foremost, they were individuals who did brilliantly what others doubted could be done at all.

Never in history has the power of ONE been greater. This afternoon, you can post your ideas online and the entire world can read them tomorrow. In a week, you can outline a book that may become a best-seller and change the world. President Obama was once a relatively disadvantaged mixed-race kid growing up in Indonesia. Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey did not start out with obvious advantages, but they seem to have done alright.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for community. I value my friends and my network. I abhor rudeness and iconoclastic "know-it-alls." Arrogance does not impress me.

But, I love individuals who stand on their own two feet. I admire individuals who find their own way in the world, people who speak their truth and share their wisdom without fear. Our troubled world needs YOUR insight and brilliance and yes, we need better solutions from those who "think different." We desperately need folks who can suggest a new way, a new solution, or an alternative plan.

So speak up! Speak out. Find the courage and resources to live your own life, in your own way, in a mass-produced, cookie-cutter, GroupThink world. The goal is "a life of one's own." That, to me, is true freedom and true success.

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