Do you think you’re better than everybody else?

Muhammad Ali: "The Greatest of All Time"

A recent article in Wired Magazine featured a list of principal forces which spur new innovations. One of the forces the piece discusses is the audacity of individuals. The people who change the world have to have a strong belief that they can do things better than anybody else before them and not be afraid to fail. Creating a device that fit in your pocket that could hold thousands of songs, mass producing all-electric cars, building a lathe that can do 16 operations at a time unmanned 24-7–it takes balls and arrogance to try that stuff.

Audacity is vital and ubiquitous in the machining industry. Machinists constantly brag to me that their latest setup has never been done in a particular way before. I walk into shops and engineers beam as they show off the homemade machines they’ve concocted.

Audacious personalities are often found among the most successful entrepreneurs as well. Groupon believed that retailers would be willing to offer their products at over 50 percent off to the masses and that millions of consumers would bite. Paypal believed it could make people pay for items in a way that had never done before and pay a fee for the privilege. Online brokerage firms turned the trading institution upside down by allowing traders to pay $10 per trade without calling a broker. Screw Machine World (Today’s Machining World) believed it could produce a revolutionary trade magazine for the machining industry, something interesting and readable versus the tried-and-true traditional stale trade rag. We were naive to think that advertisers would instantly flock to us for our high quality, despite our refusal to run their advertorial submissions. Had we known how hard it would be to make money in publishing, we probably wouldn’t have tried it and I wouldn’t be posting this blog.

Naiveté is an enabler of audacious ideas. Often it’s easier to try new things when you haven’t ever seen “the way it’s always been done,” or at least haven’t seen the way things have always been done for very long. That may be one reason younger people often have the fresh revolutionary ideas, while the so-called seasoned experts get stuck just doing what’s worked in the past. Historically most societies have preached conformity. Schools, religious institutions, corporations and assembly lines usually like to discourage audaciousness. Kind of sad, but the world can only take so many audacious SOBs, right? Are you one?

Question: Are schools in the United States inferior?

Post Fight Interview Muhammed Ali after the Rumble in the Jungle

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9 thoughts on “Do you think you’re better than everybody else?

  1. Bob Long

    If mediocrity, selflessness and a fear of rising above the lowest common denominator is the “goal” then we are the champions! Remember the mantra “I’m o.k. your o.k.” has this thoughtless babble not been wonderfully successful! We are creating a generation of foundationless puppets.
    Sorry but you did ask!

  2. Gail Glidden

    I think there is a huge disparity amoungst the quality of education in this country. We have many lacking inner city school and we have some of the best private and prep schools in the world. Of course there are exceptions in every city and some shining stars dispite the lack of resources. There is an expensive prep school not far from where I live, and a majority of the students there are very rich, FOREIGN students. A young girl in my neighborhood tried to go there, and she struggled to fit in with the uber rich and refined families and students that populated the campus. She also couldn’t afford to stay on campus which put her at a disadvantage too. My sister in law won the milken award for a New Hampshire teacher of the year in 2008 and was recognized for her incredible abilities as an elementary school teacher. It takes resources, good teachers, parent and community involvement to make a good student a great student. I fear our lack of commitment to this generation of young people and I fear for our future as they be in charge when we are old and needy.

  3. Josh

    I would definitely submit that one problem with our ailing educational system in the US is a lack of any kind of focus on the trades or manufacturing at all really. I graduated 10 years ago with the impression that everyone who worked in manufacturing was a dirty greasy assembly line type. I could NOT have been more wrong, but this is the impression I got in high school, that one should pursue academics or business or science to be respected. If I had known that manufacturing was working with computers and CNC machines I may have found my niche a whole lot sooner.

  4. Todd Miller

    In general, American schools are doing a poor job of preparing students for the 21st century workplace. That fact is exemplified by our nation’s middling performance on standardized tests, and by the millions of unfilled positions, particularly in manufacturing, becuase employers can’t find workers with the necessary skills. The answer is a long-term proposition: overhauling of school and college curricula, and longer school days such as those in Asia and Europe. BTW, at the beginning of the article, context dictates that the word “principle” should be spelled “principal” because the first spelling is a synonym for “belief” and the second spelling means “primary” or “main.”

  5. Bruce Renwick

    Watching news programs and reading about the US education system for the last 35+ years would certainly suggest that our schools are inferior and perhaps failing miserably. It also states in most cases, even when adjusted for inflation the USA spends more money today to educate children than ever before. However, not having children of my own the children in my neighborhood seem, for the most part, to be pretty intelligent and well adjusted. I do live in a middle class area where most schools and folks are doing okay. New schools that are built today are bounded under many government regulations to have a certain amount of space (acreage or area) to accommodate the children that are educated @ these schools, this in turn forces school districts to build schools outside of common living and city areas. Our local school is about 4 miles out of our little town and many children go there from much farther away. I did notice just yesterday when I was passing a school that was just ending it’s day that there were @ least 50 school busses and hundreds of automobiles to transport the children back home and as we all can figure this bottle neck mess goes on twice a day. This made me think of how much money school districts and municipalities must spend on this transportation to and from these schools every day. Could this be another well intentioned government regulation issue that backfires in the faces of everybody? I think it is. If our kids were still walking or riding their bicycles to neighborhood schools to get there education, the money spent on busing could be used for far better things.


    Noah: This is the third time I have tried to respond to your challenge and I am overwhelmed with the flood of thoughts that plague our schools, society and culture
    Most of these are the community of good intentions.
    A legal decision declared that all publicly funded schools become integrated. A good Judeo-Christian idea.
    Result: Creation of a bussing industry which starved the school room of funds
    Created a wheeled trap where bullying is has become the norm.
    Dumbed down the curriculum to level off school performance standards
    Established a false level for dignity. Every child awarded trophy..
    Created highschools as hot beds for crime, sex and drugs.
    created a no school no work culture. Headline: Minority births exceed white births.
    No surprise, they have enough time!!!! But then again, this is mainly a problem in the blue states. It seems the red states have a different understanding

  7. Bill

    The biggest problem I see in today’s schools is the lack of parental effort. If people expect teachers to parent their children, as well as teach them, it will never work. Why do charter schools get such high marks? Better teachers? Maybe, but, I think that parents who care enough to send their kids to a charter school also care enough to make sure that the student studies, does homework, etc., and that has more to do with success than how much money is spent. Teachers can’t raise your children because you are too lazy to do it yourself. Let’s get back to some basic parenting, and take responsibility for our kids, instead of expecting someone else to do the job.

  8. Noah Graff Post author

    Damn Jack,

    Don’t you think you are stepping over the line just a weeeee bit on the racial stuff? Freedom of speech–fine, say what you want, but haven’t we graduated from “Separate but equal?” Is this 1960? As someone who went to a high school that was 80% African American, I know where these stereotypes come from. There are huge problems in the emphasis on education in the African American community. There is a self-victimization weight holding African American culture down.

    But these are sweeping racist comments. And isolating Blacks in ghettos doesn’t solve our nations problems. My blog is about NOT doing the old crap that held us back in the past. It’s about trying new revolutionizing things to improve society.

    Obviously we need to change how things are currently done in education, but going back to 50 years ago can’t help our country raise it’s prosperity, it’s just ignorance.

  9. Josh


    Thank you so much for responding to Jack. My blood began to boil while reading that comment and I’m a white man. There is no place for such bigoted ignorance in this discussion and it solves nothing.


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