The Conceptual Ancestor of The Great White Magicians
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, there is a character named Prospero. And in a parenthetical reference in The Creative Brain, Dr. Nancy Andreasen mentions, “Prospero [is] a great ‘white magician’ who is the conceptual ancestor of more modern wizards such as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and Dumbledore in Harry Potter.” And since reading it a few weeks ago, I haven’t been able to get “conceptual ancestor” out of my head. So this Six at 6 is all about conceptual ancestors.
All The People That Got Me Crazy
On his podcast, Marc Maron asked Jerry Seinfeld if there was a comedian that made him want to be a comedian. Seinfeld turned around and pointed. Seinfeld had a shrine of his all-time favorite comedy albums. Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Steve Martin, on and on—“these are all the people that got me crazy,” Seinfeld said. It was a shrine of his idols, his conceptual ancestors.
The Hero With A Thousand Faces
In 1978, Christopher Vogler was studying cinema at USC when he went and saw the first Star Wars in theaters. For one of his classes, Vogler had read The Hero With A Thousand Faces by the mythologist Joseph Campbell, and he was sure Star Wars was putting Campell’s ideas to work. Vogler distilled Campbell’s complex ideas into a term paper that identified the mythic elements used in Star Wars. A few years later, he was hired as a story consultant at Disney where he turned the term paper into a five-page memo outlining “the twelve stages of the hero’s journey.” The hero’s journey, Vogler summarizes, goes like this: “The hero is introduced in his ORDINARY WORLD where he receives the CALL TO ADVENTURE. He is RELUCTANT at first to CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD where he eventually encounters TESTS, ALLIES and ENEMIES. He reaches the INNERMOST CAVE where he endures the SUPREME ORDEAL. He SEIZES THE SWORD or the treasure and is pursued on the ROAD BACK to his world. He is RESURRECTED and transformed by his experience. He RETURNS to his ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or ELIXIR to benefit his world.” The memo spread across the entertainment industry. George Lucas did indeed read Joseph Campbell before bending the story of Luke Skywalker to follow the twelve steps of the hero’s journey. In fact, Lucas calls Campbell his Yoda, his conceptual ancestor. Not just him. Not just Star Wars. The Lion King, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Matrix, Spider-Man, The Wizard of Oz—once you know the twelve steps, you see the hero with a thousand faces everywhere.
The Building That Revolutionized The Sneaker Industry
Tinker Hatfield was originally hired at Nike as a corporate architect in 1981. For four and a half years, Tinker designed stores and showrooms and offices. But in 1985, Nike was struggling. In an attempt to find top creative talent, all designers within Nike were asked to take part in a 24-hour shoe design competition. “As I often say,” Tinker said, “when you sit down to create something—it can be anything: it can be a car or a toaster or a house or a tall building or a shoe—what you create is a culmination of everything you’ve seen and done previous to that point.” Drawing on the things he’d done, the books he’d read, the places he’d been, Tinker designed a shoe that won the competition. So he was transferred to the shoe department, where he learned about Nike’s latest innovation, the Air Sole. At the time, the Air Sole was covered by PolyCushion. This was part of the reason Nike was struggling: no one knew about or understood their innovative footwear technology. Years earlier in Architecture school, Tinker learned about a building in Paris: the Georges Pompidou Center. He became so obsessed with the building that he flew to Paris to see it. It’s an inside-out building—the structural, mechanical, and circulation systems are all exposed. “That building,” Tinker said, “was describing what it was to the people of Paris. And I thought, ‘well why not do that with a shoe? Let’s cut a whole in the side and show what’s in the shoe.’” That thought led to Tinker designing the Air Max 1, often called “the shoe that revolutionized the sneaker industry.” Tinker says that had he not learned about the Pompidou center, the conceptual ancestor of the Air Max, he couldn’t have created the Air Max.
A Wonderful Technique For Being Yourself
With the Grateful Dead-offshoot band Dead & Company, John Mayer says he’s trying to sound just like the late Grateful Dead legendary lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. He was asked, how do you get those twenty-minute guitar solos almost perfect yet with your own unique flair? “That’s just me trying [to play like Jerry] and not doing it well enough,” he said, “which is a wonderful technique for being yourself. Failing to sound exactly like the person you want to sound like is a wonderful way to sound like yourself…You try to sound like who you want to sound like, and you just will always end up sounding like you.”
You’re The Sum Of Your Conceptual Ancestors
I once asked Ryan Holiday about how developed his unique writing style. He credited his favorite writers. “The key is that no one has the same combination of influences,” he said. “It feels like me because I’m the only person to combine my interests in my way.” (More recently, he said about the success of his books, “I learned it all from Robert Greene.”) It feels like him because he’s the only person to combine his conceptual ancestors in his way. Which is a wonderful technique for being yourself.