On Having the Courage to be one of The Crazy Ones

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Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.  TBWA/Chiat/Day

Apple’s 1997 Think Different advertising campaign marked a major turning point in the company’s history. The “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” ad, voiced by actor Richard Dreyfuss, and showing black and white images of transformational figures “crazy enough to think they could change the world” (and of course, they would use a Mac, not a pc) is considered to be one of the greatest adverts of all time.

The real story behind the campaign, in the words of Rob Siltanen, creative director and managing partner at the agency that created it, is fascinating. What’s also fascinating is that in 1997 Apple was operating at a loss and Microsoft was winning the consumer battle with Windows 95.  By the time Steve Jobs returned as interim CEO in August 1997 (having been fired in 1985), Apple was 90 days from Chapter 11 (a title within the US Bankruptcy Code, allowing a company in financial difficulty to reorganise). Calling in the advertising creatives, rather than, say the accountants to slash costs, was a bold move.

The ex PepsiCo exec John Sculley who orchestrated the ousting of Jobs in 1985 regarded Jobs as a “relentless zealot”. Their relationship didn’t get off to the best of starts; Jobs invited Sculley to join Apple asking “do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water to children, or do you want to change the world?” This was later turned against him in 2007 when an Apple developer, angry at the decision to drop the word “computer” from its official corporate name in 2007 asked: “Steve, do you want to sell coloured plastic all your life, or do you want to change the world?”

The Think Different campaign’s crazy ones makes for a remarkable collection of inspiring individuals, but, like Jobs, most were considered at some point in their lives to be pretty “out there”.

It’s interesting that I write this on the day that scientists have confirmed Einstein’s last unproven theory.   Einstein put forth the existence of gravitational waves in his General Theory of Relativity 100 years ago. Scientists have been trying to prove their existence for years; finally proving these ripples in space-time exist is one of the biggest scientific findings in decades.

When Einstein published his Special Relativity paper in 1905 (putting forth that space and time do not exist as separate entities) he was a clerk in the Swiss Patent office – he had graduated from college, but his professors had considered him a rather indifferent student. Einstein’s theories shocked the scientific world but they had a serious flaw: they required a completely new theory of gravity, to replace Sir Isaac Newton’s published in 1686.  Reconciling this challenge, his General Theory of Relativity was published in 1916.

Going against against over 200 years of accepted scientific fact, can you imagine how crazy people must’ve thought Einstein? Was Einstein courageous or like Jobs a relentless zealot?

Revealing the details of why he sacked Jobs at a Forbes conference in 2012, John Sculley admits:

I did not have the breadth of experience at that time to really appreciate just how different leadership is when you are shaping an industry, as Bill Gates did or Steve Jobs did, versus when you’re a competitor in an industry, in a public company, where you don’t make mistakes because if you lose, you’re out.

If you’re proposing a new scientific theory, shaping an industry, are a round peg in a square hole, trying to change things, to push the human race forward – not everyone’s going to get that right-away.

Jobs’ return to Apple marked the start of an extraordinary period of innovation: the iconic iMac was released in 1998, and the iPod was launched in 2001. The first generation iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010.  In 2011 John Sculley described Steve Jobs as the greatest CEO ever.

If you’d invested $1 in Apple in August 1997, today that $1 would be worth about $130. About $500bn of value has been created.  Value that was created by a team led by someone crazy enough, and courageous enough, to think he could change the world.

Imagine how life would be now had these two individuals not tapped into their creativity and courage and looked at life through the lens of innovation rather than rules and old thinking? Einstein moved beyond Newtonian thinking (as brilliant as Sir Isaac Newton was in his time), with a perspective on life that was about soaring imagination, not knowledge.

Steve Jobs’ tyranny and unreasonableness in the demands he made of those around him is well documented.  But he was asking his people to leap above and beyond what they could ever imagine was possible.  His behaviour was a reflection of his complete belief in explosive inspiration over process.

It’s not only geniuses that change the world. People who change the world are those that have the “ordinary courage” to bring their meaning to life. The question is, knowing you are the answer, what are you going to do about it?


The “crazy ones” featured in the advert are Albert Einstein; Bob Dylan; Martin Luther King, Jr; John Lennon and Yoko Ono; Buckminster Fuller; Thomas Edison; Muhammad Ali; Ted Turner; Maria Callas, Mohandas Gandhi; Amelia Earhart; Alfred Hitchcock; Martha Graham; Jim Henson (and Kermit); Frank Lloyd Wright and Pablo Picasso.

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