From building an empire, to writing brilliant scripts and creating financial instruments, our imagination is the greatest tool conceivable.
In the book of Genesis, a critical mass of people who spoke one language, came up with the idea of building an edifice, one which will touch the heavens. The tower of Babel, as it became known, failed miserably in its bid, to accomplish its goal, not because of the sterility of their imagination, but because of an epiphany from God Almighty, in his prompt realization that, in a battle against a united people, driven by clear mind and forceful will, he will emerge second best.
In the intervening years, building a tower of babel, has become the least of our problems — perhaps due to the fact, that we have the one language that great numbers of people speak — English.
What mattered then in biblical times and what matters today, is that, central to achieving our goals, dreams, deeply held desires, the one critical and undisputed thing is — our imagination.
The human mind, which fuels our imagination, sets the tone and agenda for the work needed to undertake the tasks to fulfill our strategic objectives and at the heart of this article, we will explore the number of instances, in which our civilization is powered by how we see things.
Architecture: The Burj Khalifa
In years past, the likes of Eiffel towers, Empire state and the world trade center dominated the charts, but these buildings have now been dwarfed by something much bigger and glitzier. There can be no question that the Burj, in 20 years will long forgotten and some other extraordinary edifice will spring up, once China takes over America as the largest economy, in the world.
The introduction of complex mathematics to the business of trading on wall street, has changed our world forever. You don’t have to know about credit default swaps, Gaussian copula or statistical analysis to appreciate the effect that financial derivatives have had on global wealth inequality.
It all began when a university student came up with the absurd idea that he could beat the dealer at casinos, if he knew how to count the cards. Once he had carefully put together a process for making this happen, he proceeded to present the results of his findings to the preeminent mathematician of the time — Claude Shannon, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
By the time, “Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One”, was published in the early 1960s, Edward Oakley Thorp had tested his ideas in a number of casinos in Las Vegas, making several thousands of dollars, along the way.
It was at this point that Ed Thorp made another revolutionary decision — apply his ideas and techniques to beating the market on wall street.
Warrants are long term contracts, very much like call options, that investors can convert into common stock. In the mid 1960s, warrants were thinly traded and no one knew how to price them.
With this challenge in view, Ed Thorp collaborated with a finance professor, by the name of Sheen Kassouf. Together they devised a quantitative investing strategy, which enabled them to accurately price convertible bonds.
But what’s extraordinary about this groundbreaking work was that, it was the insights of a Scottish botanist — Robert Brown — that led to Albert Einstein’s research, which was eventually picked on by a French student, Louis Bechelier, who drew the connection between pollen particle movements and market prices.
Thorp, being extraordinarily imaginative, clearly understood that knowing how to price volatility was the key to unlocking the vast sums of money that could be made on wall street, which he went on to, in the 70s and 80s.
It is also pertinent to point out that Myron Scholes and Fisher Black, winners of the Nobel prize for their formula in pricing options (Black-Scholes Model), were directly inspired by Kassouf and Ed Thorp.
Art: Leonardo Da Vinci
Our subject was born illegitimate to Sar Piero Da Vinci, which essentially barred him from the noble professions of medicine, law and elective office. This impediment meant that our hero had very little by way of a formal education.
What would have been an ominous start to life for most, turned out to be huge blessing in disguise, for Da Vinci, was insanely mesmerized by nature, on his long walks to the countryside and forests.
The spark to his imagination meant that he committed everything that he encountered to paper — a rare commodity, in those times.
His prodigious eye for detail, meant that he captured so much more than the average artist, made a huge impression on his father, who, subsequently signed him up to Verrocchio. It was here that, his already fecund imagination, was honed to produce some of the finest works, including the last supper, Mona Lisa, Saint John the baptist.
The Script Writers: David Simon, Ed Burns and Richard Price
These three gentlemen were the principal writers of the greatest series in the history of television — The wire.
Prior to the wire, it must be said that black characters were usually one dimensional, with little or no room for complexity, at all.
Over the course of five seasons in the noughties, we were introduced to wide range of profoundly complex characters, who were depicted by first rate actors, who fully understood the scripts they were given.
In Lester Freamon, you had a first rate policeman, who was banished to the pawn shop unit for 13 years and 4 months, until the major crimes unit was put together. We get to see a highly cerebral, methodical and strategic policeman, who understood how to get the job done, in ways, that his contemporaries didn’t. There was Omar, the gay black guy, who robbed and sometimes killed drug dealers, but was meticulous and careful in ensuring that everyday people weren’t caught up in his activities.
Stringer Bell, was completely unlike any gangster captured on screen; he went to university, thought carefully about outcomes before killing opponents, was the gifted visionary, who set up the co-operative between the East and West Baltimore gangs, to reduce the gratuitous violence and make vast amounts of money, even though he, was betrayed by his closest associate, who was unable to appreciate the broader picture.
The wire was full of compelling players: Shekima Greggs, Ervin Burrell, Bunny Colvin, Thomas Carcetti, Spiros Vondupulous, William Rawls, Norman Wisdom and so on, that writing about them, is another undertaking, on its own.
The human imagination is responsible for everything around us; the smart phones, the ability to reach the remotest parts of the earth, cure diseases that was thought incurable, do things that most people would describe as impossible.
Given the limitless potential of the mind, there’s nothing stopping you, the reader, from making your mark in the world, in whatever you are deeply passionate about.
Thanks very much for reading.
The Quants: Scott Patterson
Mastery: Robert Greene
Done: Jacques Peretti