Do you have to be an a$$hole to be a creative genius?
Today I am talking about assholes.
Everyone's got em' but you don't have to be one. (Sorry...not dainty enough?)
I've just listened to an uncomfortable interview with the original TED founder Richard Saul Wurman on Design Matters with Debbie Millman. He sold TED (Technology Education Design) to Chris Anderson in 2002. Thank god.
My first opinion, he's an asshole.
My second opinion, he is a creative genius.
My third opinion, being an asshole is the lazy mans way of achieving greatness.
I know it seems contrary to call people like Ernest Hemingway, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, perhaps Kanye West and maybe Jeff Bezos, lazy. (I don't really know that Jeff is an asshole to be honest, but there is an Entrepreneur.com article on him entitled "Why it pays to be a jerk like Jeff Bezos" so sounds like I'm on the right track.
In my mind being a creative genius does not give you a pass to be a jerk.
Call me idealistic but I'm of the belief that a true creative genius can find a way to make huge leaps, take decisive action, have the confidence to break out of the mold and in turn share that confidence out into the world in order to encourage others to innovate and share. Art is built upon art. There is plenty of innovation to go around and it seems like you would get more done if you had people on your side during the process. That doesn't mean you have to be small, overbearingly gracious, or quiet. You just don't need to ruin everyone else's life in the process of solving the worlds problems.
Back to Richard Saul who recounted that neither the principal of his high-school nor any of the teachers shook his hand at graduation. He said it was because they knew he was smarter than all of them.
If we asked his teachers why they wouldn't shake his hand I'm guessing they'd respond "Because he was an asshole."
This directly ties into my post yesterday about having a happy versus meaningful life. If I were to ask Richard Saul whether or not he lived a happy or meaningful life he would most likely respond by saying that was a stupid question. (That's how he responded to many of Debbie Millman's questions.)
This jerkish response has something behind it that seems obvious to me.
People who are confronted with their own accountability turn those types of questions around on the other person when they feel fear. I've had this experience with people in my life and naturally I've had my own moments of assholery. When I have acted this way it is always out of fear.
Here is something interesting.
Although narcissist types tend to identify themselves as highly creative, a 2010 Cornell and Stanford study suggests that narcissists are no more creative than the rest of us BUT they tend to fake it better than the majority. That make sense. Fake it till ya make it.
It has also been shown that being a jerk within a group does hinder creativity in the long run.
Assholes tend to rise to the top because their confidence overwhelms the room. They use dominance, authority, and their lack of empathy to fool people into thinking they are good leaders.
Admittedly, I've done that before.
Would the TED conferences be as successful today if Richard Saul Wurman were still in charge? No way. TED is all about the free exchange of ideas.
Still, as I write this I'm not convinced that the world doesn't need these asshole types of people to push us forward in the world.
But to feel better about humanity it's good to note that Charles Darwin was considered a really nice guy. I don't know, that just makes me feel better.
I think we will see a downward trend of assholes in creative leadership because you can't get away with anything on the internet anymore. It's accountability on a massive stage. Just as we've seen with the #metoo and #timesup movements, I think the creative leaders of the world will suddenly find themselves held accountable.
Let's hope so.