Standing on Giants’ Shoulders… Seeing What Others Can’t


Whether there is a God or not, the human mind engaged in original and creative thinking is wonder to behold… is it not ??? “Originality” in any discipline creates its own hierarchy of human endeavor… whether it be Science (Einstein… whose surname now means “intelligent”), Architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright), Psychology (Freud), Medicine (Fleming), Sports (Thorpe), assembly line (Ford), Music (Amadeus), Literature (Dickens), political resistance (Gandhi), spiritual movements (Jesus)… to name but a few of the scores of history’s original thinkers.

There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but infinite combinations of these 26 letters creates tens of thousands of words, phrases and concepts as well as a living language that never stops evolving… into new words, new phrases and new concepts. Some original thinkers command these 26 letters so artfully they become noted authors, poets and playwrights from the ever timeless Shakespeare to the present timely Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton… all created with only 26 letters.

There are only 13 different sounds in our music octave, laid out on a piano of eight white keys and five black keys (sharps and flats), yet some “original” thinkers arranged these 13 sounds into infinite, lyrical combinations, creating tens of thousands of melodies over the Centuries… from the great Classical composers to Stephen Foster’s American Songbook, to Jazz pianist, Duke Ellington, to Country singer, Hank Williams, Rock & Roller, Buddy Holly, Folk artists, Peter Paul & Mary, eclectic Paul Simon, and the “master of melodies”… Sir Paul McCartney. And, tomorrow ??? Our world will awake, yet again, to the endless, variations of new sounds and new melodies, coming out of the minds of tomorrow’s original thinkers, and straight into the hearts of music lovers everywhere… all created with only 13 musical notes.


So, how do everyday people like us go from “original” sin to “original” thinking ??? Original thinking, obviously, defies formulas, but some general rules do apply. First is memory… as in remembering. Without a strong memory, original thinking and creativity it generates… never gets out of the gate. But, on the other hand, the starting point of memory is just that… only a starting point. Memory is but a single, small step in the journey to original thinking, and the creativity original thinking creates. But, in order to be original, we must first commit the “fundamentals” of any given discipline to our memory, whether the discipline be… music or medicine, anthropology or archeology, psychology or meteorology, 1 physics or phonics, saving souls or saving lives, neuroscience or newscasting, creative writing or commercial jingles… such as, “Get on the right track to Nine mile and Mack, cuz Roy O’Brien’s got them buyin’ and buyin.’ They’re comin’ from miles and miles around”… lyrics and a melody that still jingle, jangles in my mind 50 years after I first heard it.

As Sir Isaac Newton said about original thinking and creativity 350 years ago (1675), “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulder of Giants.” Translated… much of the hard work, heavy lifting and tireless effort in establishing the fundamentals of many, many disciplines has already been discovered by history’s original thinkers. So, the good news ??? We are spared the lifetime effort of trying to establish the already-proven, basic concepts of our physical, mathematical, psychological and philosophical universe. The Giants have already done much of that work for us… over their (long-ago) lifetimes (Gravity, heliocentric solar system, round world, subconscious mind, unalienable God given rights, expanding Universe etc.). But, the bad news ??? We are left to find a path to originality in a world where so much has already been done by those who came before us. But, the good news… there is always room in the world for one more original thinker.

Standing on the shoulder of Giants, positions us to run with what the Giants have already handed over to us on a silver platter. Therefore, in our quest to become original thinkers, we start with committing to memory the fundamentals (the basics) the Giants have already given to us. And, once we memorize the fundamentals of the Giants, we then stand on their shoulders, able to see and reach even further and higher than they did. So it is !!! At least in theory.

Repeating for emphasis… it is crucial to remember that “remembering” (memory) is crucial for original thinking and the creativity original thinking leads to. Memory gets us up onto the “shoulders of Giants.” Once there, our minds and our hands are freed up, and we can turn fluidly in our own mental space and glance backwards to the past and catch a glimpse of the Giants long-ago struggles, remembering what they taught us, and then turn fluidly again 180 degrees forward to future horizons of the uncharted territory where new original thinking and creation, await discovery… beckoning to us (in “hide and seek” fashion), “come find us if you will.”

And, with a ton of effort, and a little luck, you may be able to overcome self-doubt, low self-image, and throw off the mundane and the “predictable,” and dial in the “to be discovered” setting on the trampoline that will springboard you from the shoulders of the Giants of the past… to your own, original thinking and creativity of the future. Memory is the indispensable spark that sets the journey of original thinking and creativity into motion. But, memory is but a tiny spark in the crucible of a fiery, lifelong journey of original thinking which demands much more flame than just the spark of memory. With your computerized storage of memory set firmly and fully in place (usually through formal education, but not always), the fiery, life-long journey to original thinking and creativity begins in earnest. Where the spark of memory leaves off, the lifelong journey of analysis, deliberation, imagination and writing begins. For, it is those indispensable ingredients of analysis, deliberation, imagination and writing that lead to the promise land where original thinkers find creativity, and where the new, original thinkers of today become the next Giant shoulders that future generations will stand upon.


What kind of analysis, deliberation, imagination and writing am I talking about ??? I can’t answer that question for you. Only you can answer that question. Only you can undertake your own “trial and error” analysis, deliberation, imagination and writing… that will, hopefully, answer the question for you, and direct your own “trial and error” efforts toward your own originality. If I attempted to answer the question for you, we wouldn’t be talking about originality and creativity, now… would we ??? I can give you the general concepts required, and the first halting steps to take on the path that leads to your originality and creativity… memory, analysis, deliberation, imagination and writing. I can give you a general outline of the landscape to traverse, and the effort required, but I cannot give you a formula or a recipe for originality. If I could, the end product would not be your originality. It would be mine, and there is no originality in you being me… is there ???

How you analyze, how you deliberate, how you imagine and how you write out your thoughts of the fundamentals, of the data, the facts and the details that you have committed to memory is, as poet Robert Frost would say, the road “less traveled by… that has made all the difference.” (The Road Not Taken). Just remember that original thinking and the creativity it may beget are dependent upon, but way beyond, the process of memory. And, hopefully, the memorized data, facts and details… analyzed, deliberated upon, imagined and written about over a lifetime, will make “all the difference” and put you on the road to original thinking and creativity… a road that most never see, let alone travel.

To double the emphasis, let me recoil and strike again. With an increase in memory (usually through formal education, but not always), you will finally end up in the “on deckcircle with the hope that one day you will become a major leaguer in the game of original thinking and creativity… an authentic, original and creative major leaguer who can pick up a bat that suits your chosen profession, step into the batter’s box, stand up to the plate, and connect to originality and creativity—maybe even hit a homerun. But, as I say, the (muscle) memory in your “swing” is only step one in the relentless process that demands ceaseless analysis, deliberation, imagination and writing that will, eventually, allow you to hit the ball out of the park with your own originality.

Memory by definition cannot create original thinking… as memory is just the discovery and memorization of the thoughts of others. But, without memory as the first step, the journey to original thinking and creativity is virtually impossible. For, if there is to be any original thinking and creativity, it begins with a robust memory, followed by a lifetime of subjecting the memorized details to constant, ongoing analysis, deliberation, imagination and writing. And, writing is the crucial last step that puts you over the top… because writing out what you think you know is the reality check that tells you what you really know or don’t know, as well as the bridge to self-knowledge and a self-awareness that eventually becomes your own voice… your original voice.

The bottom line. If you think you know something, write it out for someone else to understand. In that attempt to write out for others what you think you know, you will find out in short order whether you 3 really know or not. The struggle in writing out for others to read (what you think you know) is the fire that burns away the impurities of pseudo knowledge, gives you actual knowledge, perfects your memory, and leaves you with a distilled original voice.


The “gift” I give to you is the gift of “permission“… the permission to be your own original person. When I open the door marked “Original Thinkers Enter Here” and invite you in, I give you the emotional gift of permission (and encouragement) to become your own person, with your own original thoughts and your own original voice… although, as I said before, we are all “standing on the shoulders of Giants” who came before us (Newton, Einstein, Fleming, Freud, Khalil Gibran, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Frank Lloyd Wright, Babe Ruth, Jim Thorpe, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc.). Some would say, “There is nothing new under the Sun.” But, don’t let that mislead you. “You” are new under the Sun. Yes, “You”… whoever you may be, are a unique spirit by virtue of your birthright. So “You” are “new under the Sun” because nobody exactly like you has ever lived before. So, seek-out, find out, discover and nurture your “original” self, on your journey of perseverance to originality and creativity.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men and women with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

(President Calvin Coolidge).

Only with “persistence and determination” will you become an “original” thinker. Only with “discipline” will you, eventually, find your own “voice”… the kind of persistence, determination and discipline that, generally (but not always) starts in adolescence. As poet, William Wordsworth, paradoxically, put it 120 years ago (1802)… “The Child is the Father of the man.” (My Heart Leaps Up). Instill the character traits of persistence, determination, study habits and discipline in a child, and, indeed, that child will grow into the adult that the child fathered… an adult of persistence, determination and discipline, an adult who has a “shot” at becoming an original thinker, and an adult who has a shot at finding their own, unique voice.

If you want to “party down” and reject the burden of persistence, determination and discipline, life will deal you a hand of “quiet desperation”… for, as the writer, Henry David Thoreau, once said, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” But, if you accept the burden of persistence, determination and discipline, you will find your own voice, as well as joy and satisfaction well beyond the fleeting joy of youth and the “partying down” time of your life. You will find a life of purpose and meaning, a life well-lived, and the mere memory of your name will evoke the laudable reputation of someone who “ran 4 the good race and fought the good fight”… with a persistence and determination that led to your own, original voice.


Don’t be an elitist. Although you are on the journey to “originality”… never stop listening to others. Your’s is not the only voice in the room, and simply listening to others with humility and an open (but challenging) mind can be oh so informative and constructive. You are only one voice, but a very important voice… an original voice in the making.

If, after consideration, another voice is more persuasive, don’t be afraid to be “intellectually honest” and review your position, rework it, refine it, or (in some cases) change it. But, if after listening to the voices of others, and reviewing your position with intellectual honesty, and subjecting your views to a second glance of more “intellectual honesty” … then (by all means) be free to reject the opinions, the voices and advice of others, as most original thinkers and creative spirits do (albeit with a price to pay).

Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the wealth of “opportunities” given to you, and just accept the overwhelming sacrifices of time, denial of social pleasure, stress and exhaustion that come with those opportunities. Life is a struggle for all of us… even for those who seem have it all, like Richard Cory who… one calm Summer night, went home, and firmly, but politely, “put a bullet through his head.” (Richard Corey by Edwin Arlington Robinson) But, then again, Richard Cory, although envied by the poor was, after all, only a wage earner who never gave a thought to pursuing original thinking.

Let me recoil and repeat. Don’t be an elitist. Recognize the good fortune of an education as “opportunity,” and just keep plugging along, taking one day at a time, looking for some improvement each day in memory, analysis, deliberation, imagination and writing… while finding some “rip it up” time on weekends. Embrace your academic struggles, your employment struggles, and one day over the journey of life, it will all come together for you as you, eventually, realize the pleasure, the joy, the empowerment and the exhilaration of “slipping the surly bonds of Earth” and flying solo into life’s stratosphere with strong, reliable, yet graceful, original wings of High Flight (John Magee Jr. 1922-1941).

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high un-trespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face… of God.

So go ahead… dare to fly high above the sky with originality and creativity and reach out and touch the face of God