In Quirky, Melissa A. Schilling focuses on eight “breakthrough innovators”: Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Elon Musk, Dean Kamen, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs. While doing so, she draws upon an abundance of recent research. However different these eight geniuses may be in most respects, all of them (to varying degree) manifest pure creativity and originality, relentless (indeed tenacious) effort and persistence, and unique situational advantage. They also demonstrate what Schilling characterizes as “a marked sense of separateness, perceiving themselves as different or disconnected from the crowd.”
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the only ones that do.” Apple’s Think Different commercial, 1997
Steve Jobs certainly believed that and, more to the point, lived by it as an article of faith. As Schilling explains, “The three main factors that give rise to self-efficacy are personal experience (one’s own prior experience of succeeding at a problem or task), vicarious experience (seeing how others succeed at a problem or task), and verbal persuasion (being told that one will succeed at a problem or task). Of course, not surprisingly, personal experience is the most powerful.”
Long ago, Henry Ford observed, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” His friend Thomas Edison was involved in thousands of failures, although he viewed as positive developments: precious learning opportunities as well as verifiable evidence of what won’t succeed.
Within 18 months after Roger Bannister became the first person to break the four-minute mile (3:59.4 on May 6, 1954), more than a dozen others did so. What everyone assumed to be impossible was in fact possible. The same is true of the eight serial breakthrough innovators. All achieved the impossible — not once but several times – in part they did not know (or believer) that it was impossible.
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.