It is that time of year again when the publicity starts for the new Guinness Book of Records. Ignoring the fact that September is pretty early to start pushing a book that peaks at around Christmas time, another thought struck me as I reviewed some of the new entries.
It is all too easy to dismiss the eccentricity of people that want to do some of the things in the book in the hope of achieving their fifteen minutes of fame. However, underneath the wild and often dangerous challenges that people undertake in order to be crowned number one in some obscure discipline I saw another trait emerging.
Being number one in many of these activities is hardly a major achievement in itself. Indeed, in some cases being number one is achieved because no one else would have the slightest desire to attempt the feat. For example, who in the right mind wakes up in the morning and thinks they may want to balance a car on their head?
The person that did so attributed his success to his strong legs and his strong neck. To him those attributes put him apart from other humans in this particular discipline.
However, he clearly dismissed the creative ability to recognise the commercial potential of lifting a car versus a simple weight and he further dismissed his engineering skills in being able to strip out a car whilst still leaving it looking like a real drivable vehicle.
The more I looked into the records the more the combined attributes of a creative mind and an obvious skill came to the fore. Whether this was people with clear knowledge of physics, biology, engineering or some other discipline, they all combined a skill that many people had with a level of creativity.
There seems to be a consistent desire to combine knowledge and creativity to achieve excellence and yet these seemingly ordinary people will not apply those skills and abilities to more worthwhile achievements. Why do they not use these talents to come up with ideas that will improve existing businesses or create new ones?
I suspect that the answer is to be found in the Guinness Book itself. People have made this a regular best seller since the 1950s because it celebrates what people regard as the eccentrics of society. It seems OK to be thought of as some lunatic if you are the best lunatic on the world, but keep that for the sideshows. These records are often accompanied by the warning ‘don’t try this at home;. It also has an implicit warning for the achievers themselves of ‘don’t try this at work’!