Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration
By WARREN BENNIS AND PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN
Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.
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This book was born forty years ago, in a conversation with Margaret Mead. Mead was already world renowned, as famous for her social activism as for her cultural anthropology. I was a newly minted assistant professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One snowy night in Cambridge, I went to hear Mead lecture at Harvard. Afterward, I introduced myself, and we talked. I had become interested in extraordinary collaborations, the process whereby Great Groups are able to accomplish so much more than talented people working alone. I told Mead that I was interested in writing a book on how networks of gifted people have changed the world.
"That's a wonderful idea," Mead said, "especially since it's never been done before. You should call it Sapiential Circles."
It would be decades before I completed that book on creative collaboration. During the intervening years, I became fascinated with leadership in its many forms and styles. I interviewed hundreds of leaders in dozens of disciplines, trying to pinpoint the attitudes and behaviors that allow some leaders to succeed while others fail. At the same time I continued to study how organizations cope with change, never more important than in the tumultuous present. The more I learned, the more I realized that the usual way of looking at groups and leadership, as separate phenomena, was no longer adequate. The most exciting groups--the ones, like those chronicled in this book, that shook the world-resulted from a mutually respectful marriage between an able leader and an assemblage of extraordinary people. Groups become great only when everyone in them, leaders and members alike, is free to do his or her absolute best. This book is about organizing gifted people in ways that allow them both to achieve great things and to experience the joy and personal transformation that such accomplishment brings. In today's Darwinian economy, only organizations that find ways to tap the creativity of their members are likely to survive.
The book itself became a collaboration with Pat Ward Biederman, a gifted writer who has been my friend and sometime coauthor for many years. As you can see, we chose a title other than the one suggested by Dr. Mead. Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration is part history, part how-to manual, part meditation on why a few groups rise to greatness, while most flounder.
- Warren Bennis
Santa Monica, California
"None of us is as smart as all of us."
The myth of the triumphant individual is deeply ingrained in the American psyche. Whether it is midnight rider Paul Revere or basketball's Michael Jordan in the 1990s, we are a nation enamored of heroes--rugged self-starters who meet challenges and overcome adversity. Our contemporary views of leadership are entwined with our notions of heroism, so much so that the distinction between "leader" and "hero" (or "celebrity," for that matter) often becomes blurred. In our society leadership is too often seen as an inherently individual phenomenon.
And yet we all know that cooperation and collaboration grow more important every day. A shrinking world in which technological and political complexity increase at an accelerating rate offers fewer and fewer arenas in which individual action suffices. Recognizing this, we talk more and more about the need for teamwork, citing the Japanese approach to management, for example, as a call for a new model of effective action. Yet despite the rhetoric of collaboration, we continue to advocate it in a culture in which people strive to distinguish themselves as individuals. We continue to live in a by-line culture where recognition and status are according to individuals, not groups.
But even as the lone hero continues to gallop through our imaginations, shattering obstacles with silver bullets, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, we know there is an alternate reality. Throughout history, groups of people, often without conscious design, have successfully blended individual and collective effort to create something new and wonderful. The Bauhaus school, the Manhattan Project, the Guaneri Quartet, the young filmmakers who coalesced around Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, the youthful scientists and hackers who invented a computer that was personal as well as powerful, the creators of the Internet--these are a few of the Great Groups that have reshaped the world in very different but enduring ways.
That should hardly surprise us. In a society as complex and technologically sophisticated as ours, the most urgent projects require the coordinated contributions of many talented people. Whether the task is building a global business or discovering the mysteries of the human brain, one person can't hope to accomplish it, however gifted or energetic he or she may be. There are simply too many problems to be identified and solved, too many connections to be made. And yet, even as we make the case for collaboration, we resist the idea of collective creativity. Our mythology refuses to catch up with our reality. We cling to the myth of the Lone Ranger, the romantic idea that great things are usually accomplished by a larger-than-life individual working alone. Despite the evidence to the contrary, we still tend to think of achievement in terms of the Great Man or Great Woman, instead of the Great Group.
But in a global society, in which timely information is the most important commodity, collaboration is not simply desirable, it is inevitable. In all but the rarest cases, one is too small a number to produce greatness. A recent study of senior executives of international firms published by Korn-Ferry, the world's largest executive search firm, and The Economist resoundingly confirms our thesis that tomorrow's organizations will be managed by teams of leaders. Asked who will have the most influence on their global organizations in the next ten years, 61 percent responded "teams of leaders"; 14 percent said "one leader." That does not mean, however, that we no longer need leaders. Instead, we have to recognize a new paradigm: not great leaders alone, but great leaders who exist in a fertile relationship with a Great Group. In these creative alliances, the leader and the team are able to achieve something together that neither could achieve alone. The leader finds greatness in the group. And he or she helps the members find it in themselves.
This book examines Great Groups systematically in the hope of finding out how their collective magic is made. We could have chosen any number of creative collaborations, from the artists who made up the Harlem Renaissance to the scientists of the Human Genome Project, but we decided to focus on seven that have had enduring impact. They are the Walt Disney studio, which invented the animated feature film in 1937 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the Great Groups at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and Apple, which first made computers easy to use and accessible to nonexperts; the 1992 Clinton campaign, which put the first Democrat in the White House since Jimmy Carter; the elite corps of aeronautical engineers and fabricators who built radically new planes at Lockheed's top-secret Skunk Works; the influential arts school and experimental community known as Black Mountain College; and, finally, what may be the paradigmatic Great Group, the Manhattan Project.
Why these seven? We chose to emphasize twentieth-century groups based in the United States because this has been a golden age of collaborative achievement in America. (As French observer Alexis de Tocqueville noted more than 150 years ago, Americans seem to have a genius for collective action.) And we decided to focus only on groups that have altered our shared reality in some significant way. The Manhattan Project, which ushered in the nuclear age with all its benefits and horrors, obviously fits this criterion. But so does, less obviously, Disney Feature Animation. Guided by an unlikely visionary named Walt, the artists at Disney did more than create an enduring new art form. The studio that Walt and brother Roy built continues to set the standard, both creatively and economically, for the entertainment and leisure industries worldwide.
All seven groups are great in several senses. Each was or is made up of greatly gifted people. Each achieved or produced something spectacularly new, and each was widely influential, often sparking creative collaboration elsewhere. To echo Steve Jobs, whose Great Group at Apple created the Macintosh, each of these groups "put a dent in the universe." It is worth noting that all but one--Black Mountain College--were engaged in creating something substantive and external to the group: a film, a computer, the first stealth plane. Groups seem to be most successful when undertaking tangible projects, as Black Mountain was when building its second campus. The project brings them together and brings out their collective best. When the thing is finished, the group often spins apart.
Given our continuing obsession with solitary genius, reflected in everything from the worship of film directors to our fascination with Bill Gates and other high-profile entrepreneurs, it is no surprise that we tend to underestimate just how much creative work is accomplished by groups. Today, an important scientific paper may represent the best thinking and patient lab work of hundreds of people. Collaboration continually takes place in the arts as well, despite our conviction, as the great French physiologist Claude Bernard observed, that "art is I; science is we." A classic example is Michelangelo's masterpiece the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In our mind's eye, we see Michelangelo, looking remarkably like Charlton Heston, laboring alone on the scaffolding high above the chapel floor. In fact, thirteen people helped Michelangelo paint the work. Michelangelo was not only an artist, he was, as biographer William E. Wallace points out, the head of a good-sized entrepreneurial enterprise that collaboratively made art that bore his name (an opinion piece by Wallace in the New York Times was aptly headlined "Michelangelo, CEO").
Other painters have worked collaboratively as well. In a landmark article titled "Artists' Circles and the Development of Artists," published in 1982, sociologist Michael P. Farrell describes the synergistic circle of French artists, including Monet, Manet, Degas, and Renoir, who pioneered Impressionism. Monet and Renoir often painted next to each other in the Barbizon woods. For a time, their work was so similar that Monet had to look at the signature to tell whether a particular canvas for sale in a Parisian gallery was his or Renoir's. Braque and Picasso also had an intense creative collaboration, which gave birth to Cubism. For several years, they saw each other almost every day, talked constantly about their revolutionary new style, and painted as similarly as possible. They even dressed alike, in mechanics' clothes, and playfully compared themselves to the equally pioneering Wright brothers (Picasso called Braque, Wilbourg). Braque later described their creative interdependence as that of "two mountaineers roped together."
Creative collaboration occurs in other arts as well. Filmmaking is collaborative almost by definition. And Pilobolus, the marvelous dance troupe named after an unusually mobile fungus, began when a couple of Dartmouth jocks took a class from Alison Chase, a rare dance teacher who valued collective discovery over years of training. As one member of the pioneering group later recalled, most of them had zero dance technique to fall back on so they had to invent their own. "We definitely couldn't have done this alone," cofounder Jonathan Wolken told writer John Briggs. Writers, too, often reap the benefits of creative collaboration. The Bloomsbury Group is only one of dozens of such groups, albeit one whose antics have been chronicled at numbing length. Dorothy Parker and her vicious circle--the writers who exchanged barbs at Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel during the 1920s--is a home-grown example of a group whose whole seems to have been significantly greater than the sum of its acerbic parts.
Farrell's article on artists' circles begins with a quote from Henry James in praise of group creativity: "Every man works better when he has companions working in the same line, and yielding to the stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation. Great things have of course been done by solitary workers; but they have usually been done with double the pains they would have cost if they had been produced in more genial circumstances."
James's point is well taken. Gifted individuals working alone may waste years pursuing a sterile line of inquiry or become so enamored of the creative process that they produce little or nothing. A Great Group can be a goad, a check, a sounding board, and a source of inspiration, support, and even love. Songwriter Jules Styne said he had to have a collaborator: "In the theater you need someone to talk to. You can't sit by yourself in a room and write."
We chose our seven Great Groups to underscore the range of fields, including education, in which creative collaboration can take place. We also picked these seven because each makes a fascinating story. Vibrant with energy and ideas, full of colorful, talented people playing for high stakes and often racing against a deadline, Great Groups are organizations fully engaged in the thrilling process of discovery. It is our hope that everyone will be interested in some of these groups. (We have a nagging suspicion that we may have lost a few prospective readers by not chronicling a great sports team, such as the Boston Celtics of the 1980s, but we felt that was the one variety of Great Group that had been analyzed to death.) All such groups are engaged in creative problem solving, but the specific problems each of these seven faced and the solutions it found makes each distinctive. In the story of each Great Group, you will find the themes and ideas introduced in this chapter illustrated, illuminated, and expanded. But you will also find the brilliant answers to specific puzzles, such as how the Macintosh computer came to have icons that make us smile.
You might ask why we chose to focus exclusively on Great Groups when the majority of the institutions in which we work, teach, and otherwise participate are anything but. The reason is our conviction that excellence is a better teacher than is mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary. We must turn to Great Groups if we hope to begin to understand how that rarest of precious resources--genius--can be successfully combined with great effort to achieve results that enhance all our lives.
The need to do so is urgent. The organizations of the future will increasingly depend on the creativity of their members to survive. And the leaders of those organizations will be those who find ways both to retain their talented and independent-minded staffs and to set them free to do their best, most imaginative work. Conventional wisdom about leadership and teams continues to glorify the leader at the expense of the group. Great Groups offer a new model in which the leader is an equal among Titans. In a truly creative collaboration, work is pleasure, and the only rules and procedures are those that advance the common cause.
Psychologically and socially, Great Groups are very different from mundane ones. Great Groups rarely have morale problems. Intrinsically motivated, for the most part, the people in them are buoyed by the joy of problem solving. Focused on a fascinating project, they are oblivious to the nettles of working together in ordinary circumstances.
Obviously, there are lessons here for transforming our classrooms, our offices, even our communities. Traditionally, collaboration in the classroom, for instance, has been taboo, condemned as a form of cheating. Yet what we discover in Great Groups is that collaboration can only make our classrooms happier and more productive. What lessons do Great Groups have for our workplaces, where so many people feel stifled, not stimulated? Look how hard people in Great Groups work, without anyone hovering over them. Look how morale soars when intelligent people are asked to do a demanding but worthy task and given the freedom and tools to do it. Imagine how much richer and happier our organizations would be if, like Great Groups, they were filled with people working as hard and as intelligently as they can, too caught up for pettiness, their sense of self grounded in the bedrock of talent and achievement.
Every Great Group is extraordinary in its own way. Yet all of them have much in common. Imagine that it is twenty-five years ago and you are a fly on the wall at Xerox PARC where the first user-friendly computer is being invented. The offices themselves are nondescript. But the atmosphere is charged, electric with the sense that great things are being accomplished here. Most of the members of the group are young--in their twenties or thirties--and each knows that having been recruited for this project is a badge of honor. Although Xerox is a corporate behemoth, there is no sense at PARC of being part of a major corporation. No "suits" from headquarters are in evidence. Instead, the atmosphere is much like that of a graduate department at a first-rate university. People wear Birkenstocks and T-shirts. For the weekly meeting, everybody grabs a beanbag chair. Although the group is too busy working to philosophize much, any participant would tell you that he or she would rather be here than anywhere else. The money doesn't matter, career doesn't matter, the project is all. In some cases, personal relationships have been interrupted or deferred. It's hard to have a life when you're up half the night in the lab working on your part of a compelling problem, often with one of your equally obsessed colleagues at your side. This is not a job. This is a mission, carried out by people with fire in their eyes.
Great Groups have some odd things in common. For example, they tend to do their brilliant work in spartan, even shabby, surroundings. Someday someone will write a book explaining why so many pioneering enterprises, including the Walt Disney Company, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple, were born in garages. Disney's animators have often worked in cluttered temporary quarters. Black Mountain College managed with a leased campus during its exciting early years, despite the inconvenience of having to store all college property in the attic over the summer while the church organization that owned the buildings moved back in and conducted its programs. The Skunk Works did its clandestine work in a windowless building next to the airport in notoriously bland Burbank, California (the home of Disney Animation as well). According to late Skunk Works head Ben Rich, the place was "about as cheery as a bomb shelter."
We can speculate on why great things are often accomplished in dull or tacky surroundings. Perhaps a bland or unattractive environment spurs creativity, functioning as an aesthetic blank slate that frees the mind to dream about what might be. Maybe a great view and chic decor are distractions and thus counterproductive when important work is being done. But the truth is that most people in Great Groups spend very little time thinking about their surroundings. They have wonderful tunnel vision. The project, whether it's building the bomb before the Germans do or creating a computer easy enough for a child to use, is what's important. The right tools are essential, but fancy digs aren't. As a result, the offices of Great Groups often look, as Tracy Kidder writes of the Eagle computer offices in The soul of a New Machine, "like something psychologists build for testing the fortitude of small animals."
All Great Groups have other commonalities. They all have extraordinary leaders, and, as a corollary, they tend to lose their way when they lose their leadership, just as Disney did after Walt's death in 1966. It's a paradox, really. Great Groups tend to be collegial and nonhierarchical, peopled by singularly competent individuals who often have an antiauthoritarian streak. Nonetheless, virtually every Great Group has a strong and visionary head. These leaders may be as patrician as J. Robert Oppenheimer of the Manhattan Project and the Kennedyesque Bob Taylor at PARC. They may be as seemingly simple, even cornball, as Walt Disney. They are sometimes outrageous in a juvenile kind of way, as Steve Jobs was at Apple and James Carville, the Ragin' Cajun, was during Clinton's 1992 campaign. But all these leaders share certain essential characteristics.
First, each has a keen eye for talent. Sometimes Great Groups just seem to grow. Some places and individuals become so identified with excellence and excitement that they become magnets for the talented--think of the physics program at Gottingen that drew Oppenheimer and so many other great minds or the San Francisco scene that lured the writers of the Beat Generation. But Great Groups are made as well. Recruiting the right genius for the job is the first step in building many great collaborations. Great Groups are inevitably forged by people unafraid of hiring people better than themselves. Such recruiters look for two things: excellence and the ability to work with others. Computer pioneer Alan Kay recalls that Bob Taylor at PARC was a "connoisseur of talent" who recruited people both for their intellectual gifts and for their ability to work collaboratively. At Disney Feature Animation, head Peter Schneider also looks for both talent and the ability to work side by side, pursuing a common dream instead of a purely personal vision. Schneider doesn't want animators, however able, "who don't play well in the sandbox with others."
Being able to work with others does not necessarily mean fitting in in a conventional sense. Phil Jackson, coach of basketball's Chicago Bulls, treasures what Dennis Rodman brings to the championship team, despite--indeed, because of--his flamboyance. Says Jackson, who often uses Sioux and other Native American traditions to motivate the team, "Dennis has been a real blessing for us, because he's like a heyoka, the clown of the tribe. The heyoka was a cross-dresser, a unique person who walked backwards. He was respected because he brought a reality change when you saw him."
How do you find people who are capable of extraordinary work? Some leaders talk about looking for people "with fire in their eyes." Others rely on tests. Inventor Thomas Alva Edison was both an intuitive recruiter and a systematic one. He liked to give job applicants timed tests containing 150 questions dealing with science, history, engineering, and other subjects. Believing that a good memory was the basis for good decision making, he asked everything born "How is leather tanned?" to "What is the price of twelve grains of gold?" J.C.R. Licklider, the psychologist who helped launch the Internet, trusted the Miller Analogies Test (the one that asks, "North is to South as blue is to ... ?" The correct answer is gray.) Licklider believed that someone who did well on the test had a promising combination of broad general knowledge and the ability to see relationships. "I had a kind of rule," Licklider said. "Anybody who could do 85 or better on the Miller Analogies Test, hire him, because he's going to be very good at something."
The process of recruitment is often one of commitment building as well. At Data General, Tom West and his subordinates told prospective recruits to their secret computer project how good a person had to be to be chosen and how few were actually tapped. As a result, those who were brought on board saw themselves as an enviable elite, however overworked and underpaid. Kelly Johnson, the legendary founder of the Skunk Works, sought to recruit only the best person in each specialty the project required (Disney tried to do the same). As one of Johnson's lieutenants wrote to Tom Peters, "Each person was told why he had been chosen: He was the best one to be had. Whether it was absolutely true or not, each one believed it and did his darndest to live up to it."
Who becomes part of a Great Group? Participants are almost always young. In most of these groups, thirty-five was regarded as elderly, Historically, women have created some extraordinary groups. Consider the largely female coalition that mounted the New York City shirtwaist strikes of 1909-10. An alliance of woman labor organizers, teenage factory workers (most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants), college students, and a "mink brigade" of wealthy society women organized walkouts by nearly 30,000 workers from the sweat shops of the Lower East Side. Committed to collective action and social justice and dressed alike in white shirtwaists and long skirts, the women showed solidarity in the face of beatings, arrests, and, for some, economic ruin. Although their protest led to few long-term reforms and was overshadowed by the tragic fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory a year later, the action was a model of women working together to effect change. A number of participants were involved in other Great Groups. Strike leader Leonora O'Reilly, for example, was both a suffragist and a founding member of the NAACP.
Although women played roles in all seven of our groups, most of the participants were male, in large part, we can assume, because of lack of professional opportunities for women. Even when most members have been men, however, Great Groups are rarely stodgy Old Boys' Clubs. Typically, theirs is a playful, decidedly adolescent subculture.
We are deep in Peter Pan territory in many Great Groups, whether they include women or not (think of Black Mountain College under Charles Olson, who believed women made better mommies than poets, or the gifted but sophomoric engineers of the Skunk Works, who once had a contest to see who had the biggest rump). Although sexism surely kept women out of some Great Groups, there may be something in the group dynamic itself that has discouraged participation by women. (This is clearly an area for serious research, if only to find ways to tap the entire talent pool, not just the male portion.) Minorities have been underrepresented as well, even at Black Mountain, the first non-African American college in the South to enroll black students and hire black faculty. Great Groups often tend to attract mavericks, such as Black Mountain founder John Andrew Rice, who was fired from Florida's Rollins College for bucking its president, and the irrepressible physicist, prankster, and future Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman, at Los Alamos. If not out-and-out rebels, participants may lack traditional credentials or exist on the margins of their professions.
Certainly youth can bring enormous energy to these enterprises, and not being a mainstream success can liberate an individual from too much respect for orthodoxy. But probably the most important thing that young members bring to a Great Group is their often delusional confidence. Kidder cites the recruiting strategy Tom West picked up from Seymour Cray, the legendary designer of high-speed computers. Cray liked to hire talented but newly minted engineers. He believed lack of experience was an asset, not a liability, because, as Kidder writes, these unseasoned recruits "do not usually know what's supposed to be impossible." The French composer Berlioz made a similar observation about fellow composer Saint-Saens. "Saint-Saens knows everything," Berlioz said. "All he lacks is inexperience."
Thus many Great Groups are fueled by an invigorating, completely unrealistic view of what they can accomplish. Not knowing what they can't do puts everything in the realm of the possible. In a radio interview, director John Frankenheimer, whose work includes the unforgettable film The Manchurian Candidate, said that the Golden Age of television resulted, at least in part, from his naivete and that of his fellow video pioneers. "We didn't know we couldn't do it, so we did it," said Frankenheimer of making such classic dramas as "Marty" in a demanding new medium, live TV. Time teaches many things, including limitations. Time forces people, however brilliant, to taste their own mortality. In short, experience tends to make people more realistic, and that's not necessarily a good thing. As psychologist Martin Seligman has shown, realism is a risk factor for depression and its attendant ills, including an inability to act and the loss of self-trust. Great Groups often show evidence of collective denial. And "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt," as twelve-steppers like to say. Denial can obscure obstacles and stiffen resolve. It can liberate. Great Groups are not realistic places. They are exuberant, irrationally optimistic ones.
Many of the people in our Great Groups are tinkerers--the kind of people who, as children, took the family television apart and tried to put it together again. They are people willing to spend thousands of hours finding out how things work, including things that don't yet exist. There's a joke about engineers that captures the spirit of many participants in creative collaborations. An engineer meets a frog who offers the engineer anything he wants if he will kiss the frog. "No," says the engineer. "Come on," says the frog. "Kiss me, and I'll turn into a beautiful woman." "Nah," says the engineer. "I don't have time for a girlfriend ...but a talking frog, that's really neat. " Members of Great Groups don't fear technology, they embrace it. And they all think that creating the future is really neat.
Curiosity fuels every Great Group. The members don't simply solve problems. They are engaged in a process of discovery that is its own reward. Many of the individuals in these groups have dazzling individual skills--mathematical genius is often one. But they also have another quality that allows them both to identify significant problems and to find creative, boundary-busting solutions rather than simplistic ones. They have hungry, urgent minds. They want to get to the bottom of everything they see. Many have expansive interests and encyclopedic knowledge. Alan Kay, for instance, one of the wizards of PARC and now an Apple fellow, is a polymath accomplished in math, biology, music, developmental psychology, philosophy, and several other disciplines. During an interview with us, he talked insightfully about political discourse, economic theory, and the optimal size of a town before turning to his memories of PARC. Kay is the kind of person who says, with authority, "Computer science is a bit like a Gregorian chant--a one-line melody changing state within larger scale sections. Parallel programming is more like polyphony." Kay takes his insights wherever he finds them. What he knew about how children learn helped him imagine a computer that would teach them how to use it. A technique that Stewart Brand used in The Whole Earth Catalog to force readers to make a serendipitous journey through the book instead of a preplanned one influenced Kay and his colleagues in designing PARC's revolutionary network browser. People like Kay are able to make connections that others don't see, in part because they have command of more data in the first place. It is one of the unique qualities of Great Groups that they are able to attract people of Kay's stature, then provide an atmosphere in which both individual and collective achievements result from the interplay of distinguished minds.
The truism that people don't want to be managed, that they want to be led, is never more true than when orchestrating a group of Alan Kays. ("Knowledge workers" can't be managed, according to Peter Drucker, who coined the term. For that reason alone, Great Groups warrant close study by anyone interested in running an information-based enterprise.) The leaders who can do so must first of all command unusual respect. Such a leader has to be someone a greatly gifted person thinks is worth listening to, since genius almost always has other options. Such a leader must be someone who inspires trust, and deserves it. And though civility is not always the emblematic characteristic of Great Groups, it should be a trait of anyone who hopes to lead one. It was the quality that Maestro Carlo Maria Guilini thought most important in allowing the gifted individuals of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to achieve their collective goal of making truly beautiful music. "Even in delicate situations," he recalls, "I explained my views to the orchestra. I did not impose them. The right response, if forced, is not the same as the right response when it comes out of conviction." Those leaders of Great Groups who don't behave civilly (as Jobs sometimes failed to do, and Disney) put their very dreams at risk.
Members of Great Groups don't have to be told what to do, although they may need to be nudged back on task, as educators like to say. Indeed, they typically can't be told what to do: Being able to determine what needs to be done and how to do it is why they are in the group in the first place. In the collaborative meritocracy, people who are talented enough and committed enough are rightly seen as indispensable. The late Jerry Garcia, the great, gray presence of the Grateful Dead, once observed, "You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do." Such people need to be freed to do what only they can do. Great Groups are coordinated teams of original thinkers. Kidder has a wonderful term to describe the structures that result in creative collaboration. They are, he writes, "webs of voluntary, mutual responsibility." Such groups are obsessionally focused on their goal. They could not care less about the organizational chart (which often becomes a dartboard in such a group), unless there is something on there that might get in the way of the project.
Our suspicion is that one of the reasons so many members of Great Groups are young is that, given a choice, more mature and confident talent opts for more autonomy, choosing to work collectively only when the project is irresistible. Disney Animation, for instance, is currently losing some of its best and most seasoned animators in part, Peter Schneider believes, because midlife priorities make creative collaboration less attractive.
Who succeeds in forming and leading a Great Group? He or she is almost always a pragmatic dreamer. They are people who get things done, but they are people with immortal longings. Often, they are scientifically minded people with poetry in their souls, people like Oppenheimer, who turned to the Bhagavad Gita to express his ambivalence about the atom and its uses. They are always people with an original vision. A dream is at the heart of every Great Group. It is always a dream of greatness, not simply an ambition to succeed. The dream is the engine that drives the group, the vision that inspires the team to work as if the fate of civilization rested on getting its revolutionary new computer out the door. The dream--a new kind of entertainment, a new political era, a radical new take on what learning is all about--is a kind of contract, a mutual understanding that the product, and even the process itself, will be worth the effort to create it. The dream is also a promise on the visionary's part that the goal is attainable. Each time Disney asked his artists to push the envelope of animation, he told them, "If you can dream it, you can do it." He believed that, and, as a result, they did too.
Truly great leaders such as Oppenheimer seem to incarnate the dream and become one with it. They do other crucial things as well. Psychologist Teresa M. Amabile and others have established that the way an environment is structured can have an enormous impact on creativity, for good or for ill. The atmosphere most conducive to creativity is one in which individuals have a sense of autonomy and yet are focused on the collective goal. Constraint (perceived as well as real) is a major killer of creativity, Amabile has found. Freedom or autonomy is its major enhancer.
Effective leaders are willing to make decisions, but they typically allow members of the group to work as they see fit. It was the director's skill at moving the project forward while letting each participant do his or her best work that art director Robert Boyle so valued in Alfred Hitchcock. Boyle recalls working with Hitchcock on North by Northwest (1959). From an art director's point of view, it was an especially challenging film because Boyle was forced to find ways around such obstacles as the Department of the Interior's refusal to allow Cary Grant and the other actors to be filmed in front of the presidential faces on the real Mount Rushmore. Having tough problems to solve was one of the pleasures of making the movie, Boyle recalls. (He was lowered down the face of the mountain and took photos of the sculptures that were then rear-projected when the climactic scene was shot back in the studio.) "Hitchcock was very demanding, but he was also the most collaborative of any director I ever worked with," Boyle said. "Since you were professional, he expected you to do your job. He made the unity possible."
Leaders also encourage creativity when they take the sting out of failure. In creative groups, failure is regarded as a learning experience, not a pretext for punishment. Creativity inevitably involves taking risks, and, in Great Groups, it is understood that the risk taker will sometimes stumble. CEO Michael Eisner says that Disney aspires to be a place "in which people feel safe to fail." An atmosphere in which people dread failure or fear that they will be ridiculed for offbeat ideas stifles creativity, Eisner believes. He often quotes hockey great Wayne Gretzky's observation that "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." At Disney, Eisner says, adding an important caveat, "Failing is good, as long as it doesn't become a habit."
Although strong leadership is typical of Great Groups, its form may vary. The innovative and highly collaborative Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has no maestro as such. Instead it has different member-leaders for different concerts.
Many Great Groups have a dual administration. They have a visionary leader, and they have someone who protects them from the outside world, the "suits," Great Groups tend to be island societies. They are often physically isolated, as were the Manhattan Project in the New Mexico desert and Black Mountain College in the foothills of western North Carolina. While Oppenheimer was the creative head of Los Alamos, General Leslie R. Groves was its protector. Unloved by the scientists he served so well, Groves patrolled the border between the creative group and the exterior forces, notably the military bureaucracy that controlled the group's resources and could interfere at any time. Great Groups tend to be nonconformist. Their members sometimes dress haphazardly (Black Mountaineers dismayed the local townsfolk by wearing sandals or going barefoot). But whatever their appearance, they are always rule busters. People in Great Groups are never insiders or corporate types on the fast track: They are always on their own track.
As a result, they often need someone to deflect not just the criticism, but even the attention of the bureaucrats and conventional thinkers elsewhere in the organization. According to Kay, Bob Taylor did that superbly well at PARC. "Taylor put his body between Xerox and us," Kay recalled two decades later. The protectors typically lack the glamour of the visionary leaders, but they are no less essential, particularly in enterprises that require official sanction or that cannot realize their dream without institutional consent. This was the fate of the group at PARC. Taylor was able to protect his group from interference at Xerox, but he wasn't able to convince Xerox to actually put the revolutionary PARC computer into commercial production. In the Manhattan Project, Groves freed Oppenheimer to deal with the science and his independent-minded staff. Oppenheimer was able to get what he needed from the scientists, and Groves could get the scientists what they needed from the brass. Both men made the project a success.
The zeal with which people in Great Groups work is directly related to how effectively the leader articulates the vision that unites them. When heading up the team that made the Macintosh, Steve Jobs inspired his staff with the promise that they were creating something not just great, but "insanely great." He was able to urge them on not with a detailed plan for the Mac (which they were creating as they went along), but with slogans that reflected and reinforced the spirit of the project. "It's better to be a pirate than join the navy!" Jobs exhorted, and they raised a skull and crossbones over their offices. Leaders find ways to say or do whatever it takes to galvanize the group. When Frank Dale was managing editor of the now defunct Herald-Examiner in Los Angeles, he rallied his underdog journalists to struggle against the dominant Los Angeles Times by equipping his office chair with an airplane seatbelt. The message: The Herald-Examiner was taking off in its battle against the establishment paper.
Such leaders understand very basic truths about human beings. They know that we long for meaning. Without meaning, labor is time stolen from us. We become, like Milton's fallen Samson, "a slave at the wheel." Jobs and the others also understand that thought is play. Problem solving is the task we evolved for. It gives us as much pleasure as does sex. Leaders of Great Groups grasp this intuitively. They know that work done for its own sake becomes a wonderful game. No matter what our kindergarten teachers tell us, we are all Darwin's children. We love to compete. And so virtually every Great Group defines itself in terms of an enemy. Sometimes the enemy is real, as the Axis powers were for the Manhattan Project. But, more often, the chief function of the enemy is to solidify and define the group itself, showing it what it is by mocking what it is not. At Apple, IBM functioned as the Great Satan, IBM's best-selling computers as big, inelegant symbols of a reactionary corporate culture Apple despised. Jobs and his pirates took IBM on as single-mindedly and gleefully as a cell of teenage Resistance fighters going up against the Nazis. In Great Groups the engagement of the enemy is both dead serious and a lark. Thus in the landmark ad that announced the Mac during the 1984 Super Bowl, Apple tweaked IBM by suggesting that people who used its computers were Orwellian zombies, slaves to number-crunching conventionality. In a video reel shown to Apple shareholders the same day, a playful talking computer, obviously not an IBM behemoth, teased, "Never trust a computer you can't lift."
In the scramble to discover the structure of DNA, James Watson and Francis Crick cast scientific rival Linus Pauling as the villain. But nobody demonized the opposition to greater effect than did Clinton strategist James Carville during the 1992 presidential campaign. A master of memorable vilification, Carville heaped the kind of scorn on Bush and other Republicans usually reserved for people who do unnatural things to farm animals. Carville insists that every campaign needs an enemy in order to keep its energy high and focused. Leaders in other fields agree. In a dialogue with General Electric CEO Jack Welch published in Fortune magazine, Coca-Cola chairman Roberto Goizueta said that organizations that don't have an enemy need to create one. When asked why, he explained, "That's the only way you can have a war." In public, Coca-Cola may want to teach the world to sing, but in its corridors the motto is "Destroy Pepsi!" For the group, the bigger the enemy, the better. Great Groups always see themselves as winning underdogs, wily Davids toppling the bloated Goliaths of tradition and convention.
All leaders of Great Groups find ways to imbue the effort with meaning. Sometimes the goal is such a lofty one that the meaning is self-evident. Oppenheimer's group knew that its mission was the preservation of democracy. The scientists of PARC knew they were creating a radically new technology. But inspirational leaders can transform even mundane projects, turning them, too, into missions from God. It can be argued that the sale of Craftsman tools is not an intrinsically noble cause. But when Arthur Martinez took over Sears's retail unit in 1992, he recruited executives by promising them a challenge worthy of a Crusader. "I felt I had to be an evangelist," he told a reporter from Fortune. "I really was enrolling people in a mission." Turning Sears around, Martinez told prospective staffers, "would be one of the greatest adventures in business history.... There's no model for what we're gonna do. It's very risky. You have to be courageous, filled with self-confidence. If we do it, we'll be wealthier, yes. But more than that, we'll have incredible psychic gratification. How can you not do it?" Leaders are people who believe so passionately that they can seduce other people into sharing their dream.
People in Great Groups often seem to have struck a Faustian bargain, giving up their normal lives, if not their souls, in exchange for greatness. Because they are mission maniacs, obsessed with the project at hand, relationships outside the group often suffer. The wife of one of the engineers involved in Data General's Eagle project had no trouble believing her husband when he teasingly told her that the company offered alimony benefits as well as health-care ones. Inside the group, the intensity often has a sexual edge. Prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden had a romance, if not an affair, during the seemingly endless course of the first O. J. Simpson trial. As Darden subsequently explained, "We were working together fifteen or sixteen hours a day, watching each other's backs in court and commiserating over the media and other things no one else understood." At Black Mountain College, the passionate exchange of views sometimes became simple passion. Two of the school's three charismatic leaders, John Andrew Rice and Charles Olson, had affairs with students (Olson left his common-law wife and moved in with his lover, with whom he had a child). As Robert Cringely notes of Apple in its heyday, Great Groups are sexy places.
In almost all creative collaborations roles and relationships change according to the dictates of the project. In less distinguished groups, the leader would have a fair amount of managing to do. But Great Groups require a more flexible kind of leadership that has more to do with facilitating than with asserting control. Like cats, the talented can't be herded. The military model of leadership, with its emphasis on command and control, squelches creativity. Great Groups need leaders who encourage and enable. Jack Welch once said of his role at General Electric, "Look, I only have three things to do. I have to choose the right people, allocate the right number of dollars, and transmit ideas from one division to another with the speed of light." Those three tasks are familiar to almost everyone involved in creative collaboration. Many leaders of Great Groups spend a lot of time making sure that the right information gets to the right people--this was a primary purpose of the mandatory weekly meetings at PARC. Members of Great Groups may be so attuned to each other and to the nature of the task that they hardly have to speak at all, but they do have to have access to relevant data.
Leaders of Great Groups perform less obvious functions as well. Actor George Clooney, one of the stars of NBC's fast-paced medical drama, ER, says that one of the most important contributions its creator, Michael Crichton, makes to the show is his clout. As the author of one of the most lucrative entertainments of all time, Jurassic Park, Crichton is one of the entertainment industry's 800-pound gorillas. He gets whatever he wants. Clooney says he can name other projects that looked almost as promising and innovative as the highly acclaimed hospital show, but their creators had less juice than Crichton and their projects were eventually second-guessed and fatally compromised.
The best thing a leader can do for a Great Group is allow its members to discover their own greatness. But creative collaboration is a two-way street. Either because they lack the requisite skills or because the dream itself is so complex, leaders often find themselves driven by an aching powerlessness to realize their vision in any other way but collaboratively. Disney could dream it, but, in truth, he couldn't do it unless he got hundreds of other talented people to go along. The leader may be the person who needs the group the most. Luciano De Crescenzo's observation that "we are all angels with only one wing, we can only fly while embracing each other" is just as true for the leader as for any of the others.
Although Great Groups experience their moments of near despair, they are more often raucous with laughter. In the midst of the Clinton campaign, Carville took time out to crack eggs over the head of one of his colleagues, letting accumulated tensions drain away in an absurd but effective way. Epic company-wide water fights have become a fixture of life in Silicon Valley. Creative collaborators become members of their own tribe, with their own language, in-jokes, dress, and traditions. Apple became famous for its team T-shirts. Question: "How many Apple staffers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" Answer: "Six. One to turn the lightbulb and five to design the T-shirt." Generations of Disney animators have seen how many pushpins they can throw at one time, the sort of mildly dangerous competitive play that the young have engaged in for millennia.
In a true creative collaboration, almost everyone emerges with a sense of ownership. In the early 1940s, students and faculty at Black Mountain built their main college building with their own hands (each student got to finish his or her room, with the predictable variations in workmanship). The Mac team expressed that sense of ownership by having all their signatures displayed inside each machine. It was a way of leaving their mark, of laying claim to a tiny piece of the new world they had created.
What keeps extraordinary groups from becoming cults? The fact that many are engaged in scientific enterprises may be one reason, since science, with its constant testing and habitual skepticism, is less likely than some other disciplines to breed fanaticism. Great Groups also tend to be places where dissent is encouraged, if only because it serves the spirit of discovery that is at the heart of these enterprises. These collaborations also tend to be collegial, with the leader perceived as one among equals, rather than as one in possession of unique skills or knowledge. Egos in Great Groups are often fully developed. Such individuals are unlikely to regard the person they report to as the Messiah.
Great Groups often fall apart when the project is finished. They are like animals that die soon after they breed. Why do these often short-lived associations burn so brightly in the memories of former members? Why does George Stephanopoulos look back on months of campaign drudgery and tell the president elect, "It was the best thing I ever did"? There are a host of reasons. Life in the group is often the most fun members ever have. They revel in the pleasure that comes from exercising all their wits in the company of people, as Kay said of his colleagues at PARC, "used to dealing lightning with both hands." Communities based on merit and passion are rare, and people who have been in them never forget them. And then there is the sheer exhilaration of performing greatly. Talent wants to exercise itself, needs to.
People pay a price for their membership in Great Groups. Postpartum depression is often fierce, and the intensity of collaboration is a potent drug that may make everything else, including everything after, seem drab and ordinary. But no one who has participated in one of these adventures in creativity and community seems to have any real regrets. How much better to be with other worthy people, doing worthy things, than to labor alone ("When I am alone," writer Carlos Fuentes says, "I am poverty-stricken."). In a Great Group you are liberated for a time from the prison of self. As part of the team, you are on leave from the mundane--no questions asked--with its meager rewards and sometimes onerous obligations. Nobody who was at PARC or involved in the making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ever talks about the long days or who got credit for what. All they remember is the excitement of pushing back the boundaries, of doing something superbly well that no one had ever done before. Genius is rare, and the chance to exercise it in a dance with others is rarer still. Karl Wallenda, the legendary tightrope walker, once said, "Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting." Most of us wait. In Great Groups, talent comes alive.
In writing this book, we depended heavily on existing histories and other secondary sources, augmented by interviews with participants in many Great Groups. This book could not exist without such superlative histories as Martin Duberman's Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community; Richard Rhodes's The Making of the Atomic Bomb; Douglas K. Smith and Robert C. Alexander's book on Xerox and the personal computer, Fumbling the Future; Steven Levy's story of the Macintosh, Insanely Great; Robert X. Cringely's Silicon Valley saga, Accidental Empires; Ben Rich and Leo Janos's Skunk Works; and the encyclopedic account of Clinton's first campaign, Quest for the Presidency 1992, written by a team from Newsweek." Tracy Kidder's classic study of a nearly Great Group, The Soul of a New Machine, was also invaluable.
(C) 1996 Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-201-57051-3
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Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 251803 – April 271882) was an American philosopher, essayist, and poet.
- The cup of life is not so shallow
That we have drained the best
That all the wine at once we swallow
And lees make all the rest.
- 1827 journal entry reproduced in Emerson: The Mind on Fire (1995), p. 82
- The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.
- The Divinity College Address (1838) : full title “An Address Delivered Before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, Sunday Evening, July 15, 1838”, given at Harvard Divinity School : as contained in The Spiritual Emerson: Essential Writings, Emerson, ed. David M Robinson, Beacon Press (2004), p. 78 : ISBN 0807077194
- The sublime is excited in me by the greatstoical doctrine, Obey thyself.
- The Divinity College Address (1838)
- Wherever a man comes, there comes revolution. The old is for slaves.
- The Divinity College Address (1838)
- None believeth in the soul of man, but only in some man or person old and departed.
- The Divinity College Address (1838)
- The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.
- The Divinity College Address (1838)
- He who is in love is wise and is becoming wiser, sees newly every time he looks at the object beloved, drawing from it with his eyes and his mind those virtues which it possesses.
- I fancy I need more than another to speak (rather than write), with such a formidable tendency to the lapidary style. I build my house of boulders.
- Yet a man may love a paradox, without losing either his wit or his honesty.
- Literature is the effort of man to indemnify himself for the wrongs of his condition.
- Walter Savage Landor, from The Dial, XII
- There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.
- The two parties which divide the State, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation are very old, and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made … Now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities … Innovation is the salient energy; Conservatism the pause on the last movement.
- The Conservative, via Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History (Houghton Mifflin, 1986) p. 23
- Self-reliance, the height and perfection of man, is reliance on God.
- The Fugitive Slave Law, a lecture in New York City (7 March 1854), The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904)
- Slavery is disheartening; but Nature is not so helpless but it can rid itself of every last wrong. But the spasms of nature are centuries and ages and will tax the faith of shortlived men. Slowly, slowly the Avenger comes, but comes surely. The proverbs of the nations affirm these delays, but affirm the arrival. They say, "God may consent, but not forever." The delay of the Divine Justice — this was the meaning and soul of the Greek Tragedy, — this was the soul of their religion.
- "The Fugitive Slave Law", a lecture in New York City (7 March 1854), The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), p. 238
- I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "LEAVES OF GRASS." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our western wits fat and mean.
I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.
I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging…
- Classics which at home are drowsily read have a strange charm in a country inn, or in the transom of a merchant brig.
- I find the Englishman to be him of all men who stands firmest in his shoes. They have in themselves what they value in their horses, — mettle and bottom.
- Solvency is maintained by means of a national debt, on the principle, "If you will not lend me the money, how can I pay you?"
- English Traits (1856), reprinted in The Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 2 (Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co., 1870), p. 206 (full text at GoogleBooks)
- Nothing can be preserved that is not good.
- In Praise of Books (1860)
- Never read any book that is not a year old.
- If the colleges were better, if they … had the power of imparting valuable thought, creative principles, truths which become powers, thoughts which become talents, — if they could cause that a mind not profound should become profound, — we should all rush to their gates: instead of contriving inducements to draw students, you would need to set police at the gates to keep order in the in-rushing multitude.
- The Celebration of Intellect (1861)
- Only the great generalizations survive. The sharp words of the Declaration of Independence, lampooned then and since as 'glittering generalities,' have turned out blazing ubiquities that will burn forever and ever.
- A lecture on 'Books' delivered in 1864; the quoted phrase 'glittering generalities' had been used by Rufus Choate to describe the declaration of the rights of man in the Preamble to the Constitution (The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903-4) Vol. 10, p. 88, note 1)
- A mollusk is a cheap edition [of man] with a suppression of the costlier illustrations, designed for dingy circulation, for shelving in an oyster-bank or among the seaweed.
- Power and Laws of Thought (c. 1870)
- Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words, and, in proportion to the inspiration, checks loquacity.
- Parnassus, Preface (1874)
- There are two classes of poets — the poets by education and practice, these we respect; and poets by nature, these we love.
- What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.
- Fortune of the Republic (1878)
- I hung my verse in the wind
Time and tide their faults will find.
- "The Test", as quoted in Emerson As A Poet (1883) by Joel Benton, p. 40
- Sunshine cannot bleach the snow,
Nor time unmake what poets know.
- "The Test", as quoted in Emerson As A Poet (1883) by Joel Benton, p. 40
- Characters and talents are complemental and suppletory. The world stands by balanced antagonisms. The more the peculiarities are pressed the better the result. The air would rot without lightning; and without the violence of direction that men have, without bigots, without men of fixed idea, no excitement, no efficiency.
The novelist should not make any character act absurdly, but only absurdly as seen by others. For it is so in life. Nonsense will not keep its unreason if you come into the humorist's point of view, but unhappily we find it is fast becoming sense, and we must flee again into the distance if we would laugh.
- The Natural History of Intellect (1893)
- What strength belongs to every plant and animal in nature. The tree or the brook has no duplicity, no pretentiousness, no show. It is, with all its might and main, what it is, and makes one and the same impression and effect at all times. All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of a rabbit, rabbits. But a man is broken and dissipated by the giddiness of his will ; he does not throw himself into his judgments; his genius leads him one way but 't is likely his trade or politics in quite another.
- The Natural History of Intellect (1893)
- Every man is a new method.
- The Natural History of Intellect (1893)
- A mind does not receive truth as a chest receives jewels that are put into it, but as the stomach takes up food into the system. It is no longer food, but flesh, and is assimilated. The appetite and the power of digestion measure our right to knowledge. He has it who can use it. As soon as our accumulation overruns our invention or power to use, the evils of intellectual gluttony begin,— congestion of the brain, apoplexy and strangulation.
- The Natural History of Intellect (1893)
- Every man I meet is in some way my superior; and in that I can learn of him.
- As quoted in Think, Vol. 4-5 (1938), p. 32
- You must read Plato. But you must hold him at arm's length and say, 'Plato, you have delighted and edified mankind for two thousand years. What have you to say to me?'
- I read your piece on Plato. Holmes, when you strike at a king, you must kill him.
- Said to a young Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who had written a piece critical of Plato in response to his earlier conversation with Emerson, as reported by Felix Frankfurter in Harlan Buddington Phillips, Felix Frankfurter Reminisces (1960), p. 59
- I regard it as the irresistible effect of the Copernican astronomy to have made the theological scheme of redemption absolutely incredible
- Quoted in Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson, the Mind On Fire (Univ. of Calif Press 1995), p. 124
- What is there in 'Paradise Lost' to elevate and astonish like Herschel or Somerville?
- Quoted in Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson, the Mind On Fire (Univ. of Calif Press 1995), p. 124
- The horseman serves the horse,
The neatherd serves the neat,
The merchant serves the purse,
The eater serves his meat;
'T is the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind;
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind.
- “Ode,” Complete Works (1883), vol. 9, p. 73
- Money often costs too much.
- The Conduct of Life, Chapter 3, “Wealth,” p. 107
- I am not much an advocate for travelling, and I observe that men run away to other countries because they are not good in their own, and run back to their own because they pass for nothing in the new places. For the most part, only the light characters travel. Who are you that have no task to keep you at home? I have been quoted as saying captious things about travel; but I mean to do justice. .... He that does not fill a place at home, cannot abroad. He only goes there to hide his insignificance in a larger crowd. You do not think you will find anything there which you have not seen at home? The stuff of all countries is just the same. Do you suppose there is any country where they do not scald milk-pans, and swaddle the infants, and burn the brushwood, and broil the fish? What is true anywhere is true everywhere. And let him go where he will, he can only find so much beauty or worth as he carries.
- The Conduct of Life, Chapter 4, “Culture,” p. 145
- People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.
- The Conduct of Life, Chapter 6, “Worship,” p. 214
- Leave this hypocritical prating about the masses. Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them.
- The Conduct of Life, Chapter 7, “Considerations by the Way,” Complete Works (1883), vol. 6, p. 237
- Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude.
- "Education", Lectures and biographical sketches (1883), p.116
- To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.
- When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.
- The Religion that is afraid of science dishonours God and commits suicide. It acknowledges that it is not equal to the whole of truth, that it legislates, tyrannizes over a village of God's empires but is not the immutable universal law. Every influx of atheism, of skepticism is thus made useful as a mercury pill assaulting and removing a diseased religion and making way for truth.
- A sect or party is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking.
- Four snakes gliding up and down a hollow for no purpose that I could see — not to eat, not for love, but only gliding.
- We are always getting ready to live, but never living.
- Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.
- Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.
- I wish to write such rhymes as shall not suggest a restraint, but contrariwise the wildest freedom.
- Children are all foreigners.
- The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence.
- Man exists for his own sake and not to add a laborer to the state.
- Journal, 328, Nov. 15, 1839, 
- He needs no library, for he has not done thinking; no church, for he is himself a prophet; no statute book, for he hath the Lawgiver; no money, for he is value itself; no road, for he is at home where he is.
- If I made laws for Shakers or a school, I should gazette every Saturday all the words they were wont to use in reporting religious experience, as “spiritual life,” “God,” “soul,” “cross,” etc., and if they could not find new ones next week, they might remain silent.
- It is easy to live for others; everybody does. I call on you to live for yourselves.
- You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both.
- Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
- The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.
- Poetry must be new as foam, and as old as the rock.
- I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.
- Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote. I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.
- May 1849: This is a remark Emerson wrote referring to the unreliability of second hand testimony and worse upon the subject of immortality. It is often taken out of proper context, and has even begun appearing on the internet as "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know" or sometimes just "I hate quotations".
- May 1849: This is a remark Emerson wrote referring to the unreliability of second hand testimony and worse upon the subject of immortality. It is often taken out of proper context, and has even begun appearing on the internet as "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know" or sometimes just "I hate quotations".
- Blessed are those who have no talent!
- The word liberty in the mouth of Mr. Webster sounds like the word love in the mouth of a courtesan.
- 12 February 1851; compare the remark of John Wilkes about Samuel Johnson, "Liberty is as ridiculous in his mouth as Religion in mine" (20 March 1778), quoted in The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) by James Boswell.
- I trust a good deal to common fame, as we all must. If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.
- The blazing evidence of immortality is our dissatisfaction with any other solution.
- I have been writing & speaking what were once called novelties, for twenty five or thirty years, & have not now one disciple. Why? Not that what I said was not true; not that it has not found intelligent receivers but because it did not go from any wish in me to bring men to me, but to themselves. I delight in driving them from me. What could I do, if they came to me? — they would interrupt and encumber me. This is my boast that I have no school & no follower. I should account it a measure of the impurity of insight, if it did not create independence.
- Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generation beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe. Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?
- Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man's condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth.
- If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
- The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.
- The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title. To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food.
- Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
- Beauty is the mark God sets upon virtue.
- Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.
- Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.
- We are, like Nebuchadnezzar, dethroned, bereft of reason, and eating grass like an ox.
- A man is a god in ruins.
The American Scholar (1837)
- In this distribution of functions, the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state, he is, Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking.
- The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.
- The soul active sees absolute truth; and utters truth, or creates.
- But genius looks forward: the eyes of men are set in his forehead, not in his hindhead: man hopes: genius creates.
- Genius is always sufficiently the enemy of genius by over influence.
- Man Thinking must not be subdued by his instruments.
- Of course, he who has put forth his total strength in fit actions, has the richest return of wisdom.
- Success treads on every right step. For the instinct is sure, that prompts him to tell his brother what he thinks. He then learns, that in going down into the secrets of his own mind, he has descended into the secrets of all minds. He learns that he who has mastered any law in his private thoughts, is master to that extent of all men whose language he speaks, and of all into whose language his own can be translated.
- Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the table.
- The soul is subject to dollars.
- In how many churches, by how many prophets, tell me, is man made sensible that he is an infinite Soul; that the earth and heavens are passing into his mind; that he is drinking forever the soul of God?
- The world is nothing, the man is all; in yourself is the law of all nature, and you know not yet how a globule of sap ascends; in yourself slumbers the whole of Reason; it is for you to know all, it is for you to dare all.
- I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.
- Character is higher than intellect...A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.
- What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and the gait of the body; — show me the ultimate reason of these matters; show me the sublime presence of the highest spiritual cause lurking, as always it does lurk, in these suburbs and extremities of nature; let me see every trifle bristling with the polarity that ranges it instantly on an eternal law; and the shop, the plough, and the ledger, referred to the like cause by which light undulates and poets sing; — and the world lies no longer a dull miscellany and lumber-room, but has form and order; there is no trifle; there is no puzzle; but one design unites and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench.
- Do not yet see, that, if the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.
- We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds...A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.
Literary Ethics (1838)
- Address to the Literary Societes of Dartmouth College (24 July 1838)
- You will hear every day the maxims of a low prudence. You will hear, that the first duty is to get land and money, place and name. "What is this Truth you seek? What is this Beauty?" men will ask, with derision. If, nevertheless, God have called any of you to explore truth and beauty, be bold, be firm, be true. When you shall say, "As others do, so will I. I renounce, I am sorry for it, my early visions; I must eat the good of the land, and let learning and romantic expectations go, until a more convenient season." — then dies the man in you; then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand thousand men. The hour of that choice is the crisis of your history; and see that you hold yourself fast by the intellect. … Bend to the persuasion which is flowing to you from every object in Nature, to be its tongue to the heart of man, and to show the besotted world how passing fair is wisdom.
- Explore, and explore, and explore. Be neither chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry. Neither dogmatise yourself, nor accept another's dogmatism. Why should you renounce your right to traverse the star-lit deserts of truth, for the premature comforts of an acre, house, and barn? Truth also has its roof, and bed, and board. Make yourself necessary to the world, and mankind will give you bread, and if not store of it, yet such as shall not take away your property in all men's possessions, in all men's affections, in art, in nature, and in hope.
- Thought is all light, and publishes itself to the universe. It will speak, though you were dumb, by its own miraculous organ. It will flow out of your actions, your manners, and your face. It will bring you friendships. It will impledge you to truth by the love and expectation of generous minds. By virtue of the laws of that Nature, which is one and perfect, it shall yield every sincere good that is in the soul, to the scholar beloved of earth and heaven.
Essays: First Series (1841)
- And what fastens attention, in the intercourse of life, like any passage betraying affection between two parties? Perhaps we never saw them before, and never shall meet them again. But we see them exchange a glance, or betray a deep emotion, and we are no longer strangers. We understand them, and take the warmest interest in the development of the romance. All mankind love a lover.
- The ancestor of every action is a thought.
- Heroism feels and never reasons and therefore is always right.
- It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, — "Always do what you are afraid to do."
- All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it to the end it shall ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe.
- Do what we can, summer will have its flies: if we walk in the woods, we must feed mosquitos: if we go a-fishing, we must expect a wet coat.
- Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind and when the same thought occurs in another man, it is the key to that era.
- These hints, dropped as it were from sleep and night, let us use in broad day. The student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem his own life the text, and books the commentary. Thus compelled, the Muse of history will utter oracles, as never to those who do not respect themselves. I have no expectation that any man will read history aright, who thinks that what was done in a remote age, by men whose names have resounded far, has any deeper sense than what he is doing to-day.
- Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of facts.
- History must be this or it is nothing. Every law which the state enacts indicates a fact in human nature; that is all. We must in ourselves see the necessary reason of every fact, — see how it could and must be.
- There is properly no history; only biography.
- Nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same.
- Why should we make account of time, or of magnitude, or of figure? The soul knows how to play with them as a young child plays with graybeards and in churches.
- It is the fault of our rhetoric that we cannot strongly state one fact without seeming to belie some other.
- There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.
- All that Shakespeare says of the king, yonder slip of a boy that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself.
- The difference between men is in their principle of association. Some men classify objects by color and size and other accidents of appearance; others by intrinsic likeness, or by the relation of cause and effect. The progress of the intellect is to the clearer vision of causes, which neglects surface differences. To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. For the eye is fastened on the life, and slights the circumstance. Every chemical substance, every plant, every animal in its growth, teaches the unity of cause, the variety of appearance.
- When the voice of a prophet out of the deeps of antiquity merely echoes to him a sentiment of his infancy, a prayer of his youth, he then pierces to the truth through all the confusion of tradition and the caricature of institutions. Rare, extravagant spirits come by us at intervals, who disclose to us new facts in nature. I see that men of God have, from time to time, walked among men and made their commission felt in the heart and soul of the commonest hearer.
- I am ashamed to see what a shallow village tale our so-called History is.
- Broader and deeper we must write our annals, from an ethical reformation, from an influx of the ever new, ever sanative conscience, if we would trulier express our central and wide-related nature, instead of this old chronology of selfishness and pride to which we have too long lent our eyes. Already that day exists for us, shines in on us at unawares, but the path of science and of letters is not the way into nature. The idiot, the Indian, the child, and unschooled farmer's boy, stand nearer to the light by which nature is to be read, than the dissector or the antiquary.
- Full text online
- God will not have his work made manifest by cowards
- I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, — and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.
- A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
- There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but though his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.
- We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents.
- Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so.
- Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
- It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
- Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.
- Truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company.
- Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world, — as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle.
- Ordinarily, every body in society reminds us of somewhat else, or of some other person. Character, reality, reminds you of nothing else; it takes place of the whole creation. The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent. Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; — and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man … and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.
- A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
- In this pleasing contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt it, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects.
- These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.
This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and character they chance to see, —painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered these sayings, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.
- You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well.
- Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim.
- Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is. Who has more obedience than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric, when we speak of eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.
This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed ONE. Self-existence is the attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it constitutes the measure of good by the degree in which it enters into all lower forms. All things real are so by so much virtue as they contain.
- Power is in nature the essential measure of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul.
- But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.
- Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.
- It may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue. For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?
- Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.
- Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative.
- Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.
There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.
- Henceforward I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities.
- I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.
- In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations. A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.
- The man in the street does not know a star in the sky.
- Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.
- Full text online at Wikisource
- I think that our popular theology has gained in decorum, and not in principle, over the superstitions it has displaced. But men are better than this theology. Their daily life gives it the lie. Every ingenuous and aspiring soul leaves the doctrine behind him in his own experience; and all men feel sometimes the falsehood which they cannot demonstrate. For men are wiser than they know. That which they hear in schools and pulpits without after-thought, if said in conversation, would probably be questioned in silence. If a man dogmatize in a mixed company on Providence and the divine laws, he is answered by a silence which conveys well enough to an observer the dissatisfaction of the hearer, but his incapacity to make his own statement.
- A statement in this passage is sometimes paraphrased: "Men are better than their theology."
- Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess. Every sweet hath its sour; every evil its good. Every faculty which is a receiver of pleasure has an equal penalty put on its abuse. It is to answer for its moderation with its life. For every grain of wit there is a grain of folly. For every thing you have missed, you have gained something else; and for every thing you gain, you lose something. If riches increase, they are increased that use them. If the gatherer gathers too much, nature takes out of the man what she puts into his chest; swells the estate, but kills the owner. Nature hates monopolies and exceptions.
- The universe is represented in every one of its particles. Every thing in nature contains all the powers of nature. Every thing is made of one hidden stuff; as the naturalist sees one type under every metamorphosis, and regards a horse as a running man, a fish as a swimming man, a bird as a flying man, a tree as a rooted man. Each new form repeats not only the main character of the type, but part for part all the details, all the aims, furtherances, hindrances, energies, and whole system of every other. Every occupation, trade, art, transaction, is a compend of the world, and a correlative of every other. Each one is an entire emblem of human life; of its good and ill, its trials, its enemies, its course and its end. And each one must somehow accommodate the whole man, and recite all his destiny.
The world globes itself in a drop of dew.
- Humanlabor, through all its forms, from the sharpening of a stake to the construction of a city or an epic, is one immense illustration of the perfect compensation of the universe. The absolute balance of Give and Take, the doctrine that every thing has its price, — and if that price is not paid, not that thing but something else is obtained, and that it is impossible to get any thing without its price, — is not less sublime in the columns of a leger than in the budgets of states, in the laws of light and darkness, in all the action and reaction of nature. I cannot doubt that the high laws which each man sees implicated in those processes with which he is conversant, the stern ethics which sparkle on his chisel-edge, which are measured out by his plumb and foot-rule, which stand as manifest in the footing of the shop-bill as in the history of a state, — do recommend to him his trade, and though seldom named, exalt his business to his imagination.
- The league between virtue and nature engages all things to assume a hostile front to vice. The beautiful laws and substances of the world persecute and whip the traitor. He finds that things are arranged for truth and benefit, but there is no den in the wide world to hide a rogue. Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires. The laws and substances of nature — water, snow, wind, gravitation — become penalties to the thief.
On the other hand, the law holds with equal sureness for all right action. Love, and you shall be loved. All love is mathematically just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic equation. The good man has absolute good, which like fire turns every thing to its own nature, so that you cannot do him any harm; but as the royal armies sent against Napoleon, when he approached, cast down their colors and from enemies became friends, so disasters of all kinds, as sickness, offence, poverty, prove benefactors: —
- "Winds blow and waters roll
Strength to the brave, and power and deity,
Yet in themselves are nothing."
- "Winds blow and waters roll
- The good are befriended even by weakness and defect. As no man had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him, so no man had ever a defect that was not somewhere made useful to him.
- Our strength grows out of our weakness. The indignation which arms itself with secret forces does not awaken until we are pricked and stung and sorely assailed. A great man is always willing to be little. Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to sleep. When he is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of conceit; has got moderation and real skill. The wise man throws himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find his weak point. The wound cicatrizes and falls off from him like a dead skin, and when they would triumph, lo! he has passed on invulnerable. Blame is safer than praise. I hate to be defended in a newspaper. As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success. But as soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me, I feel as one that lies unprotected before his enemies. In general, every evil to which we do not succumb is a benefactor.
- Men suffer all their life long, under the foolish superstition that they can be cheated. But it is as impossible for a man to be cheated by any one but himself, as for a thing to be and not to be at the same time. There is a third silent party to all our bargains. The nature and soul of things takes on itself the guaranty of the fulfilment of every contract, so that honest service cannot come to loss. If you serve an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer.
The history of persecution is a history of endeavours to cheat nature, to make water run up hill, to twist a rope of sand. It makes no difference whether the actors be many or one, a tyrant or a mob. A mob is a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of reason, and traversing its work. The mob is man voluntarily descending to the nature of the beast. Its fit hour of activity is night. Its actions are insane like its whole constitution. It persecutes a principle; it would whip a right; it would tar and feather justice, by inflicting fire and outrage upon the houses and persons of those who have these. It resembles the prank of boys, who run with fire-engines to put out the ruddy aurora streaming to the stars. The inviolate spirit turns their spite against the wrongdoers. The martyr cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every prison, a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house enlightens the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side. Hours of sanity and consideration are always arriving to communities, as to individuals, when the truth is seen, and the martyrs are justified.
Thus do all things preach the indifferency of circumstances. The man is all. Every thing has two sides, a good and an evil. Every advantage has its tax. I learn to be content. But the doctrine of compensation is not the doctrine of indifferency. The thoughtless say, on hearing these representations, — What boots it to do well? there is one event to good and evil; if I gain any good, I must pay for it; if I lose any good, I gain some other; all actions are indifferent.
There is a deeper fact in the soul than compensation, to wit, its own nature. The soul is not a compensation, but a life. The soul is. Under all this running sea of circumstance, whose waters ebb and flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss of real Being. Essence, or God, is not a relation, or a part, but the whole. Being is the vast affirmative, excluding negation, self-balanced, and swallowing up all relations, parts, and times within itself. Nature, truth, virtue, are the influx from thence. Vice is the absence or departure of the same.
- We feel defrauded of the retribution due to evil acts, because the criminal adheres to his vice and contumacy, and does not come to a crisis or judgment anywhere in visible nature. There is no stunning confutation of his nonsense before men and angels. Has he therefore outwitted the law? Inasmuch as he carries the malignity and the lie with him, he so far deceases from nature. In some manner there will be a demonstration of the wrong to the understanding also; but should we not see it, this deadly deduction makes square the eternal account.
Neither can it be said, on the other hand, that the gain of rectitude must be bought by any loss. There is no penalty to virtue; no penalty to wisdom; they are proper additions of being. In a virtuous action, I properly am; in a virtuous act, I add to the world; I plant into deserts conquered from Chaos and Nothing, and see the darkness receding on the limits of the horizon. There can be no excess to love; none to knowledge; none to beauty, when these attributes are considered in the purest sense. The soul refuses limits, and always affirms an Optimism, never a Pessimism.
His life is a progress, and not a station. His instinct is trust. Our instinct uses "more" and "less" in application to man, of the presence of the soul, and not of its absence; the brave man is greater than the coward; the true, the benevolent, the wise, is more a man, and not less, than the fool and knave. There is no tax on the good of virtue; for that is the incoming of God himself, or absolute existence, without any comparative. Material good has its tax, and if it came without desert or sweat, has no root in me, and the next wind will blow it away. But all the good of nature is the soul's, and may be had, if paid for in nature's lawful coin, that is, by labor which the heart and the head allow. I no longer wish to meet a good I do not earn, for example, to find a pot of buried gold, knowing that it brings with it new burdens. I do not wish more external goods, — neither possessions, nor honors, nor powers, nor persons. The gain is apparent; the tax is certain. But there is no tax on the knowledge that the compensation exists, and that it is not desirable to dig up treasure. Herein I rejoice with a serene eternal peace. I contract the boundaries of possible mischief. I learn the wisdom of St. Bernard, — "Nothing can work me damage except myself; the harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a real sufferer but by my own fault."
- I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.
- Thou art to me a delicious torment.
- The only way to have a friend is to be one.
- Almost all people descend to meet.
- Happy is the house that shelters a friend!
- A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.
- A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.
- Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searching sort.
- The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one.
- I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have them where I can find them, but I seldom use them.
- My friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me. By oldest right, by the divine affinity of virtue with itself, I find them, or rather not I, but the Deity in me and in them derides and cancels the thick walls of individual character, relation, age, sex, circumstance, at which he usually connives, and now makes many one.
- In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.
- Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.
- Tomorrow will be like today. Life wastes itself whilst we are preparing to live.
- Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.
- Valor consists in the power of self-recovery, so that a man cannot have his flank turned, cannot be out-generalled, but put him where you will, he stands.
- Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.
- One man's justice is another's injustice; one man's beauty another's ugliness; one man's wisdom another's folly.
- Nature abhors the old, and old age seems the only disease; all others run into this one.
- People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
- Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
- Circles, like the soul, are neverending and turn round and round without a stop
- This adage had previously appeared, identically worded, in Coleridge'sThe Statesman's Manual (1816)
- Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.