Own Your Nose

This post was originally a comment on the Medium post What School Won’t Teach You About Creativity by my great young friend Steve Moraco.

Steve is absolutely right about the link between creativity and curiosity. The wealthiest and most philanthropic man I know personally was a Rhodes Scholar. As he and I both prepared for the competition, he shared that he was building his presentation around the principle of “‘satiable curtiosity” as found in The Elephant’s Child from Rudyard Kipling’s collection Just So Stories.

In The Elephant’s Child Kipling introduces the downside of curiosity. In the event you have not already discovered it, some people do not appreciate insatiable curiosity. Some may make fun of you. Others may hit you. This is especially true if they think you are asking why they are doing something stupid stupidly, i.e. if they really know you might be right and they could and should be doing better. They may bite your nose and try to rip it off your face, as happened to the Elephant’s Child. Such a thing happened to my older son, Anton.

Anton was using a NEXT computer to design carbon-fiber golf shafts for a company in San Diego. It was his first job after graduating from UC San Diego with a degree in mechanical engineering. He realized that there was a much better way to do the job. In fact, he realized that there were several things the company could do much better than they were. He wrote it all up and submitted it to his bosses on Tuesday. He received his pink slip on Thursday. To me it felt like he was getting his nose pulled off his face. And I could tell it really was no fun for him.

So Anton came to bunk with me for a while. But guess what! He rewrote the whole computer program, not on the NEXT, though, because that belonged to the company, but on his own Mac. The company got wind of it. Since they were a company with a lawyer and money, they had Anton served with a restraining order prohibiting him from selling or in any way disseminating his new, totally from scratch code.

I was outraged. I told my son that we should fight this. I told him I would mortgage my home to fund a legal battle. His mom, too, committed to sell the farm if need be to fund the fight.

Anton is not an aggressive person. It took a while, but he finally accepted the idea of a fight. He went to talk to my intellectual property attorney David Branfman. David is a great guy and a very smart and capable attorney with a strong background. Armed with insights from David and knowing his family was standing with him, Anton approached his former bosses. A settlement was reached. The exact nature of the settlement is probably not supposed to be disclosed. So I won’t disclose it. What I can say, though, is that Anton went on to receive a Masters in Engineering Economics and Operations Research from Stanford for which his Mom and I did not have to pay a penny.

So what is the take away? Curiosity and creative ideas may not always lead to fun! If a crocodile grabs hold of your nose, do not follow him into the water, unless, of course, you like being lunch as opposed to having lunch. Pull away. It may be a struggle. It may feel like your nose is going to rip away from your face. Hang in there, though, and you may come out of it with a prehensile snoz or in other terms “a good nose for success.” I mean, could an elephant pick bananas from the banana palm without a trunk?

P.S. What’s the deal about owning your nose? Well, I remain all fired up about Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin: “The leader must own his world. There is no other excuse.” So just do a little arbitrage between Rudyard Kipling and the two SEAL warriors, and Voilà! “Own your snoz or someone else will.”


Just So Stories

Also published on Medium.

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