Sunday Snippet: Alan Turing (1912-1954)

“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

As a child, I remember hearing a saying — and I’m paraphrasing — that you should be nice to nerds and geeks, because they’re the ones who will be your boss some day. They’re the ones who will be in charge. They’re the ones who will rule the world. It was a comforting thought since, for all intents and purposes, I fell squarely into this “nerds and geeks” demographic.

The Mark of Genius

There’s certainly some truth to that idea, but it’s only part of the picture. We assume that children who are identified early as being ahead of the curve will remain ahead of the curve. That doesn’t always hold up. Some of them might rebel. Some of them might fall on difficult circumstances. Some of them may cower from the bullying inflicted upon the “nerds” of the world, stunting their own prospects in the process.

Meanwhile, there’s that other kid. The lonely kid with no friends. The quiet kid who no one even notices because he seamlessly blends into the background. While he may not be saying much, there could be a lot going on in his head. And he could be seeing the world in an entirely different way. Somehow, I picture someone like Elon Musk in this role.

When you are identified as the guy with potential, there’s a good chance you’ll be set on a pre-determined path. You need to take this course or this program so you can start this profession. And fall in line. You’re trained to see the world the same way as your peers and colleagues. As those who came before you.

But not the other kid. He blazes his own path, quietly and alone.

Imagine the Unimaginable

I learned of Alan Turing through his dramatized portrayal in The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch depicted him as a genius, emotionless misanthrope who no one seemed to care about. (I swear Cumberbatch is getting type-cast. Sherlock, Khan, and now this too? I digress.)

And in line with the quote at the top, he went on to achieve great things, playing a huge role in breaking the Nazi coded messages during World War II and ultimately winning the war for the Allies.

Given all of this, I was led to believe that no one could “imagine anything of” Alan Turing. But that’s not entirely true. He grew up in the very affluent London neighborhood of Maida Vale. He studied at a prestigious school where his scientific and mathematical genius were recognized early. He may have been a “weirdo.” He just happened to be an absolutely brilliant one.

Just Do You

If nothing else, and not to discount his tragic demise that followed, one big lesson we can learn from Alan Turing is that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be yourself. And to all his educators who thought Alan was too focused on the sciences and not on the classics and the arts, it turns out that this wildly talented logician was busy making electronic music too. Bet you couldn’t have imagined that!