When I was at Microsoft, I attended a presentation where Dean Kamen talked about his inventions: an iBot, a power generator, a water purifier, etc…I was really moved and inspired by one man’s ability to change the world by creating many artifacts that benefit humanity in this magnitude.
A friend of mine who was sitting next to me during the talk whispered in my ear:
– “This guy reminds me of Howard Roark”.
– “Howard who?”, I asked.
– “Howard Roark. You know? The Fountainhead!”, he answered.
Apparently this is a book that has been taught in high schools in the U.S., while I was studying Camus’ L’etranger and Hugo’s Les Miserables in Egypt.
Since I am a big believer in the third omen (things that appear in my life three times must be telling me something), and that it was the third time someone mentions this book to me, I bought it on my way back home and started reading it that evening. The book was over 700 pages, and I couldn’t put it down. I took the following two days off, and did nothing but read the Fountainhead cover to cover. And when I was done, I was transformed. Transformed by a fictitious character that represents a human ideal to strive for in many aspects. One who’s immune to people’s expectations and judgments. One who holds his beliefs and values above his desire to please others and the urge follow the status quo.
Long story short, two years later I was reading a memoir by James Dyson where he mentioned Buckminster Fuller as an inspiration. I researched Fuller and realized quickly that he was a manifestation of the values that Ayn Rand portrayed for Howard Roark in the Fountainhead: selfless, confident, different, and in some way, scary. (I should mention that selfless in this context does not refer to the act of self sacrifice for the pleasure of others, but to put oneself out for the good of humanity and for the sole goal of doing what’s right with no regard to others’ judgments, or to one’s personal desires).
At 32, Fuller was already penniless, jobless, and his second child was just born shortly after his first one died of meningitis few years earlier before her fifth birthday. Since the age expectancy for males back then was 45 years, he realized that he had two choices to live the remaining ten years of his life: To join the game of money making that’s been played all over the world, or to start thinking on his own. He vowed himself to silence for two years to get over his reflexive talking habits. Once Fuller stopped communicating with the outer world, he started tapping into a different world: his inner world. He started listening to his intuition and learn about what needs to be done.
And in doing his own thinking, he gave up what he’s been taught, and stopped accepting taking for granted what others told him.
His silence and thinking led him to a simple theory: If one attends to the problems of humanity and commits oneself to solving them, the universe will care for that person the same way it cares for a flower or a bird. So he committed himself to working on the bigger tasks of the world on the absolute faith that the universe’s integrity will pay him back. His philosophy was that changing the world does not occur through preaching or social reforms, but through artifacts that solve the existing challenges of humanity.
In the following fifty years of his life (he lived well beyond the statistical age expectancy), Fuller wrote more than thirty books, created numerous design and architectural inventions, was awarded more than twenty five patents, held over forty eight honorary doctorates, and traveled the world lecturing and teaching.
Throughout his life, he always focused on what he can do in a given situation instead of dwelling on the negative aspects that presented themselves to him. He did what nature, and the universe, wanted him to do, and not what the system expected from him.
And in achieving all that, Fuller never gave up his humility. He always referred to himself as a “throwaway guinea pig” who is in constant experimentation with his own life for service of humanity, and who dares to be naive to learn what he needs to know.
Below is one of the most inspiring interviews I’ve ever watched. I strongly recommend it!
Here are some of my favorite excerpts from that interview:
– Can you trust yourself that once you get the knowledge necessary & apply it to solve the problems of the universe that you won’t mistake yourself for being big? that you are still the small you? the “throw away ” you?
– Dare to be naive. That’s the only way you’ll ever learn.
– Become a comprehensive student of the world’s repository. Learn to see the invisible world. Do much more with much less.
– Great religious and political institutions rely on man’s belief of being a total failure.
– Our challenge is not lack of knowledge, it’s lack of faith.
– Find out the truth and commit yourself to the truth of your finding.The truth is out there. You only need to tune “in”.
– You need to realize that you’ve got some of the mystery of the universe inside you, and you need to make it available for others.
– Humans have the unique ability to access the secrets of the universe. Hence, they should be here for a great purpose.
– Every human being is born genius. But we degenerate from that state very rapidly because of fear.
I also loved what the interviewer said at the end of the show: “May the force be with you, and the force will be with you when you realize you are the force”.
Hope you enjoy the interview!