June 13, 2012
We live in an age of insanely advanced technologies, materials, and resources enabling unprecedented global power. What’s possible without the high tech tools? What is more powerful than “power?” Strength. No, it’s not just any physical strength since we all have some modicum of strength. Rather, it takes the unique, inner strength of that maverick character to willfully go against the tide, to invent, to persist, and to break barriers without much fancy-schmancy gadgets or “vulture capitalist” funding.
May I present 10 tightly edited, fiercely independent barrier breakers across industries with just enough tidbits for your next cocktail hour banter? Some may be new or old to you, so be sure to comment on your favorite tool-light innovator.
Bare Boned Writers
1. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) pays a dime for each 30 minutes to type Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter at UCLA’s Powell Library. Total cost = $9.80 for one of the 20th century’s most influential dystopia books. When the Depression precludes college, this maverick obtains higher education by visiting libraries weekly… for 10 years. Bradbury also never chose to get his driver’s license despite living in sprawling Los Angeles, either.
2. Jack Kerouac (1922– 1969) tapes together 120 feet of tracing paper to type the seminal On the Road in 3 weeks without having to stop to change paper. This writer makes his own continuous paper roll prior to dot-matrix printing! Kerouac pushes through several publishers’ rejections to ultimately achieve near overnight fame. It’s no surprise that he never liked being labeled as the King of the Beat Generation because that would be a societal anointment.
3. J.K. Rowling (1965-present) writes Harry Potter on an old typewriter as a divorced, single mother just pounds (£) from penury. She’s still one of the world’s richest women, estimated to be worth $1 billion by Forbes in 2011 and gives to several charities today. Her tool? Imagination.
4. France’s über champagne, Veuve Clicquot, means the widow of Clicquot. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin (1777-1866) took over her husband’s company at 27 at a time when most other young and rich French women sought not to work. Not only did Madame Clicquot re-focus the company to only produce champagne, she invents a new wine aging rack with her cellar master. When the tools aren’t available, make the tools! The riddling process produces quality, clear champagne more cheaply and efficiently by storing bottles upside down to separate the settled yeast. The Grand Dame entrepreneur also scores the equivalent of today’s celebrity endorsement by importing the luxurious champagne to Russian royalty.
5. Apple’s board fires Steve Jobs (1955-2011) from the company he co-founded, yet he goes on to transform Pixar Studios from a fledging division of Lucas Films to eventually winning 26 Academy Awards. Jobs accomplishes this feat organizationally via architecture: consolidating 3 separate buildings into one studio, and adamantly placing the only bathrooms in the building’s center. This move forces engineers to mix with marketers who bounce ideas off designers to create ground breaking feature length animated movies. Not to mention that Jobs was given up for adoption as a baby.
Defiant Dancer and Composer
6. Martha Graham (1894 –1991) takes up dancing despite the societal norms and “feedback” of being too old, short, and plain. She just didn’t comply with the standard, rigid European ballet from centuries ago. This nonconformist learned the rules in order to break them: she invents her own, revolutionary style that paints the wild rainbow of human expression. Graham goes on to open the own dance company, tour the world as a cultural ambassador, and professionally perform until 76 years-old.
7. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) still composes symphonies and sonatas despite his hearing deteriorating from as early as his late twenties. There was no electronic hardware aiding his hearing or software to edit his intricate masterpieces. How could this genius create music in his mind when his ears could not reverberate back? There was no mixing and sampling at the touch of a button. Beethoven’s artistic drive persists through prolonged illness, litigation, and foiled relationships, until the end when his funeral draws over 20,000 people.
Kickin’ Photographer and Architect
8. Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965) didn’t let polio, her father’s abandonment, divorce, or the Great Depression slow down her photographic art. There was no Nikon DSLR when she successfully ran her own San Franciscan studio. I clearly remember how struck I felt when I first saw Lange’s most famous photograph, Migrant Mother, in a display at college. I stamped Lange’s name into my memory bank. This independent photographer showed the stories of people who could not tell their own story: migrant workers, displaced farm families, the unemployed, and Japanese-Americans destined for relocation camps like Manzanar. Lange was inducted into California’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
9. Just as American women were fighting for the right to vote in 1920, Julia Morgan (1872-1957) was designing Hearst Castle’s 56 bedrooms over 90,000 square feet in California’s Central Coast. Morgan became the first female civil engineer to graduate from Berkeley. Her trailblazing continues as she applies to the premiere architecture school, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. Parisian school officials never imagined admitting a woman so they rejected Morgan… twice. Morgan pursues admission for two years as she keeps on winning local design competitions. After placing 13th out of 376 applicants on the entrance exam, Morgan attends, and earns her Masters degree in architecture. Morgan designs over 700 buildings in her career.
Once in a Lifetime Fashion Designer
10. NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art held the most magnificent art exhibit I’ve experienced: Savage Beauty (Summer 2011). Alexander McQueen (1969–2010) redefined beauty and borders by using materials in ways never imagined. Envision designing a gown with red and black ostrich feathers and glass microscope slides painted red as just the tip of the iceberg. McQueen was no t.v.-manufactured, Project Runway winner. He first honed his craft as a tailor’s apprentice on London’s dapper Savile Row. The Met’s exhibit broke attendance records with over 650,000 people over 3 months with up to a two-hour wait.
So, what’s stopping you?
1. Duarte, Nancy. Resonate. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons, 2010.
2. Lehrer, Jonah. Imagine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
Image via: Wookmark