There is a long tradition of nearly men* in most fields of human endeavor, such as exploration, sport, scientific discovery, music and commerce. There is often a small and seemingly arbitrary difference between being a success or not, being really famous and nearly famous – which I will call the ‘5th Beatle syndrome’. Is it mostly about being in the right place at the right time, or are there other forces and hidden rules at play? Although, as an aside, there were a few changes to the band before the final Beatles ‘fab four’ line-up was formed. Most famously Stu Sutcliffe (died from a brain injury after the early Hamburg concerts) and Pete Best (the drummer replaced by Ringo Starr), were almost part of the most famous band on the planet, but both contributed to the sound and look of what was to come.
(*Ed. I’m sure women have also enjoyed(!) the same title, although none are mentioned here. Feel free to add to my list.)
Eight Days a Week
With a complete lack of scientific rigour or objectivity, I think that nearliness(sic) happens when someone else, let’s call them the ‘winner’ for now, is characterized by:
(1) Persistence, i.e. being in the game for longer/long enough, keeping healthy, motivated and dedicated,
(2) Wanting it more than the other guy/gal, including (1) but also willing to take more risks, sacrifices, and possibly working harder, playing tougher or dirtier than the rest,
(3) A bit of luck, or good fortune, to be ‘in the right place….’ For example, I could conceivably have been Bill Gates, but a poor black African woman born in the 1930’s could not, probably! (but she could have grown up to be Winnie Mandela)
That’s my theory anyway. For the moment I am ignoring skill, knowledge, privilege, patronage, criminality, naked greed, and acts of God – by which I mean fate, Karma, earthquakes, traffic jams and 101 other things that could be deemed out of your control. Sudden death counts but a slight head-cold doesn’t – see (1) above. I will also ignore the nature of fame versus success, which is very subjective depending on one’s personal perspective, and not an absolute measure that can be applied from the outside.
The Long and Winding Road
I recently read a memoir written by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft – the one who isn’t Bill Gates! I hope you agree that it covers these points quite well, and includes some tech stuff – this is an IT-themed blog after all 😉
The first part of the book was a fascinating insight into how two 20-something super-nerds, ‘…invented the future’. In the space of 8 frantic years Microsoft rose from nowhere to be the world leader in microcomputer (Personal Computer) languages and operating systems. And that pattern has continued to this day, with or without Allen. Microsoft has developed and thrived with essential business desktop applications (word processors and spreadsheets supplanting the early market leaders such as Word Perfect and Visicalc), web browsers (Internet Explorer overtaking early leader Netscape Navigator), distributed databases (SQLServer), web development software (.Net), and all manner of other software that underpins the way that individuals and organisations work with computers and technology (BizTalk, Dynamics etc.) It hasn’t been all plain sailing though; they have struggled to get a foothold in some technologies and platforms, noticeably mobile phones and other smart devices. The changing nature of technology and the interplay between hardware and software is a separate topic for another day and another post!
Allen’s decision to leave such a successful company was due to a combination of a health scare (he got non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in his late-20’s) and the ongoing tiring friction with Gates, what might have been called ‘irreconcilable differences’ in a divorce. Since leaving Microsoft in 1983, you could say that Allen has been more successful, using his huge wealth to invest in a whole range of technology and ‘wired world’ (his phrase) projects and start-ups, and supporting music, sport, near-space flight, education, and neurological research (to name a few). He remains a lot less famous than William Gates III…but he may see that as a good thing, who am I to judge?
The Fool on the Hill
The relatively young IT and computing industry has some other high profile examples of less well known entrepreneurs and abandoned partners:
You could probably name Steve Jobs as the founder of Apple, but what about his co-founders Steve Wozniak (who actually designed the Apple I and II), and Ronald Wayne, who sold his share to the others for $800 before it was incorporated and went on to become the biggest tech company in the world. Exactly.
You may be familiar with Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and have heard about the Winklevoss twins, but, I suggest, only from the film The Social Network and the acrimonious court case, the former accused of copying the idea ‘ConnectU’ from the latter. To the winner [most of] the spoils!
And then there’s the exception, Google, still going strong with its original founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, but then their company motto is ‘Don’t be evil’!
Maybe it’s as simple and as complex as the evolution of ideas/products/companies/technologies, and the tendency of us humans to fight for supremacy, although in these cases it has been played-out in the public domain in the accelerated half-Iife of the computer and internet age.
For a Gates, Jobs or Starr to shine, maybe there has to be an Allen, a Wayne or a Best before… 🙂
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.