Capture Y, or go & die
There’s nothing like a good meme when considering the next year as it lays before you. And while I don’t mean to come off fatalist or morbid when I say artists should ‘capture Y or go & die,’ the truth is that too many creative people never capture any percent (Y) of the value (X) that their artistry or novel idea generates for the world.
Tesla as analog
First, let me set the stage slightly so it’s abundantly clear what I’m driving at. It’s perhaps easiest to speak about Nikola Tesla, since his legacy is so clean-cut with regards to X & Y — he makes the case without the need to elaborate one bit.
The Serbian inventor, Nikola Tesla, is galvanized in history as one of the greats, and thanks to Elon Musk, the name ‘Tesla’ became popularized in modern times as America’s newest car brand. This ingenious 20th-century polymath came to America in 1884, and in an impressive burst of creativity, invented fluorescent light bulbs, AC current, X-rays, Radio, remote controls & wireless communication, electric motors, and much more.
In one lifetime, he burgeoned whole sectors, and wouldn’t you know it, some of his brain-children came to him one century ‘before their time.’ While this incredible man was able to create X value for the world — not unlike many others like him in the sciences, arts & what have you — Tesla was unable to capture any percent (Y) of it.
Tesla died penniless in a rented Manhattan hotel room.
Synonymous to the greatness of Tesla, is Amadeus Mozart. A master keyboardist, composer, and a prodigy in his own class, Mozart spent a life of creating value for the world. Despite his genius, Mozart had a tough time capturing any percent of this value, and he, as well, died penniless and was buried in a pauper’s grave.
Creative types aren’t allergic to money nor are they addicted to poverty — heck, letters from Amadeus to his father Leopold reveal much about the young composer’s frustrations with getting his patrons to pay on time, etc. Tesla was not aloof in this regard, either. However, there is one stubborn rule about value-creation that seems hidden to many: that value — X — is completely independent from Y — where Y is the percentage captured of X.
If Tesla captured 1% of the value he created for the world, he would have lived & died an incredibly rich man. If Mozart had captured 1% of the value he created for the world, he as well would have lived & died at 35 a life not perennially doused in poverty. So, what made it impossible for these two geniuses to do just that? Was enterprising too gauche an idea for both to explore?
It seems that many creative people are under the spell that the value they create for the world comes with a karma that will bring them good fortune. Not known to them, maybe, is the prospect that after they unleash these values, it’s up to them to head out the front door and hunt down the same beasts borne from their very beings. Perhaps they feel like they’ve done enough, that the hard work is over, and that kickbacks are inevitable and warranted.
Whatever the reason, you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint a great mind who was able to capture anything. Whether it be in the arts or sciences, the greats were unable to see that the task of capturing Y was up to them, and that this mere task is wholly an aside from the monumental accomplishments we remember them by.