The generation of greatness

Edwin H Land, founder of Polaroid and creative genius, back in the 1950’s spoke of a generation of greatness.

If further evidence of his visionary nature is required Land also said that one day we would have a camera with us all the time and use it through the day as much as we use a phone.  Steve Jobs cited Land as one of his biggest inspirations and so was born the iphone.

Back to greatness and specifically The Age of Greatness lecture given by Land at the Ninth Annual Arthur Dehon Little Memorial Lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology May 22, 1957:

“What do I mean by greatness as I have used it in the title of this lecture? What do I mean by the Generation of Greatness?

I mean that in this age, in this country, there is an opportunity for the development of man’s intellectual, cultural, and spiritual potentialities that has never existed before in the history of our species. I mean not simply an opportunity for greatness for a few, but an opportunity for greatness for the many.

I believe that each young person is different from any other who has ever lived, as different as his fingerprints: that he could bring to the world a wonderful and special way of solving unsolved problems, that in his special way, he can be great. Now don’t misunderstand me. I recognize that this merely great person, as distinguished from the genius, will not be able to bridge from field to field. He will not have the ideas that shorten the solution of problems by hundreds of years. He will not suddenly say that mass is energy, that is genius. But within his own field he will make things grow and flourish; he will grow happy helping other people in his field, and to that field he will add things that would not have been added, had he not come along.

I believe there are two opposing theories of history, and you have to make your choice. Either you believe that this kind of individual greatness does exist and can be nurtured and developed, that such great individuals can be part of a cooperative community while they continue to be their happy, flourishing, contributing selves — or else you believe that there is some mystical, cyclical, overriding, predetermined, cultural law — a historic determinism.

The great contribution of science is to say that this second theory is nonsense. The great contribution of science is to demonstrate that a person can regard the world as chaos, but can find in himself a method of perceiving, within that chaos, small arrangements of order, that out of himself, and out of the order that previous scientists have generated, he can make things that are exciting and thrilling to make, that are deeply spiritual contributions to himself and to his friends. The scientist comes to the world and says, “I do not understand the divine source, but I know, in a way that I don’t understand, that out of chaos I can make order, out of loneliness I can make friendship, out of ugliness I can make beauty.”

I believe that men are born this way — that all men are born this way. I know that each of the undergraduates with whom I talked shares this belief. Each of these men felt secretly — it was his very special secret and his deepest secret — that he could be great.

But not many undergraduates come through our present educational system retaining this hope. Our young people, for the most part — unless they are geniuses — after a very short time in college give up any hope of being individually great. They plan, instead, to be good. They plan to be effective, They plan to do their job. They plan to take their healthy place in the community. We might say that today it takes a genius to come out great, and a great man, a merely great man, cannot survive. It has become our habit, therefore, to think that the age of greatness has passed, that the age of the great man is gone, that this is the day of group research, that this is the day of community progress. Yet the very essence of democracy is the absolute faith that while people must cooperate, the first function of democracy, its peculiar gift, is to develop each individual into everything that he might be. But I submit to you that when in each man the dream of personal greatness dies, democracy loses the real source of its future strength.”

Feels to me remarkably like we’ve arrived at that time.

We have the tools to access our greatness and apply them in business, governments, media, education.  That is we have arrived at the time when we can create and organise social systems from greatness.

All that’s now left is to just do it.

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2 thoughts on “The generation of greatness

  1. Such a timely post for me Kat. I particularly love this: “The scientist comes to the world and says, “I do not understand the divine source, but I know, in a way that I don’t understand, that out of chaos I can make order, out of loneliness I can make friendship, out of ugliness I can make beauty.”
    Seems as if the absolutely mystifying nature of life is also the ground from which individual order, friendship and beauty can be grown, even whilst all around remains in chaos.
    Thank you for sharing. Made my day :)

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