Will you allow me to talk about innovation, but from another point of view? In fact I feel I must …
What is the relationship between science and music? You will doubtless think that music is itself a science – and you will be right. But perhaps the most interesting part of the comparison is the similarity between the ordeal of the scientist and the ordeal of the artist in their hope to succeed in our country.
That amounts to the same as saying we Spaniards find it hard to admit to the existence of superior talent. Envy and our own inbreeding prevents us from detecting, applauding and feeling proud of the brilliant talent of others. It is so intense that we envy their money and lives of luxury while despising their talent. We don’t even falsely envy that.
Talent, as far as I’m concerned, is superior to scientific or artistic intelligence. Its conception breaks the mold and draws from some kind of genetic, parallel, divine or natural information, making the individual a wonderful messenger of the aesthetics of natural equilibrium, the golden structure, the inner balance of the invisible yet perceived, something felt, heard and contemplated. Something with the power to touch our perceptions and our reasoning. It involves devoting 99% of one’s life to mental and manual toil, and the other 1% waiting for inspiration to strike. That vital one percent goes unrecognized most of the time.
Take, for example, great jazz musicians. Some of those I’ve been fortunate enough to meet were very young, exceptionally classy, with an understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm that was quite literally off the scales. And not just jazz. They seem to connect with a source from beyond their years and yet there they are, unshackled by inexperience. Dinah Washington and Billy Holliday at the age of 22 or 27. At least they can hear the voice of the customer, and the applause.
I have also had the fortune to meet many young scientists with brilliant ideas on how to transform the world from their small area of research. Some of them go abroad because they cannot find understanding or a place to grow in our country. How many young scientists have made fortunes here? I, for one, do not know…
How many hours have they dedicated to their talent? Must they clock in and out, or are they always “on”? Do they always have credit on their phones? Do unions strike in their defense or have the nameless few in the SGAE (the Society for Authors and Publishers) capitalized on anonymous talents, who have surrendered their knowledge unwittingly and unpaid? Many started out with plenty of talent but few resources, and will die amid their worn instruments and crumpled papers. But except for their own bitterness, which they cannot control, you will never hear a single chord of complaint from them, let alone the utopian viability of an invention. Others registered their properties before notaries after a couple of years, or had companies, and long ago left it all to follow their pursuits, for the love of their art.
It is a terrible problem we face, the envy of grey people. We do not know what to do with superior talent. Talented people frighten us, are an unforeseen, uncontrollable, unpredictable cost, aliens, weirdos with ideas. They are not from the club, the family, the core. Rather they are an opportunity for those who dwell beneath, competition for the neighbors next door, and a threat to those who peer from above. Dreadful. We’ll never value them, unless of course they have made a fortune. But then we’ll appreciate their talent! Oh yes, when they invite us aboard their yacht in Ibiza.
Top talent is the worst enemy of grey people, of the bosses in today’s economies. But we have to admit to our greyness, which is why we like to see grey people on television, which by the way are far from rosy cheeked. And not because we are not smart, but because we spend our time twiddling our thumbs, watching our navel (as we say in Spanish). And we do not even have the generosity to find alternatives for talent to excel. That’s why Rafael Nadal is key and king among Spaniards, because he is almost the only talent, sacrifice and personality who is unquestionably Spanish. And though I rejoice in that thought, I can’t help but notice we are surrounded by wonderful beings with powers and enormous talent that could help change the face of Spain. A country that will not swerve from its current plan to lower costs and project an image of a country run by wise managers, but which, like Japan, needs to invest in innovation, regardless.
And it’s not a matter of creating another government body with a silly name like “the Spanish Agency for the Promotion of Talent” where friends of the Party could go with other elephants from old graveyards. There’s no need for any of this. We should not envy these people. We just have to admit we will never connect with the natural intelligence that allows them to overcome the barriers of the unknown and surprise us with new approaches, “out of the box” ideas, new melodies or harmonies in music and science that make us happy and may, on occasion, change our lives.
But no. It seems that the Spanish do not want to pay for all this, for that talent. They’ll pay for nonsense and whims, despite the crisis. But not for science, for art. I’m surprised by the very long hours and complex knowledge that professional musicians have had to invest in developing their talents and excel in a succession of moments, hundredths of a second, upbeats, before landing on their feet, without anyone understanding or appreciating any of it. I refer obviously to the professional musician, not to the “la la la” band. How much is that moment of living creativity worth? For many, it seems, less than the cost of a “relaxing cafe con leche” (which the mayor of Madrid famously recommended to the International Olympic Committee).
How much are you willing to pay for access to creativity and innovation? Is talent, innovation, creativity a public good we should socialize until it’s free? I’m afraid not, as has happened with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). I fear that for the time being what’s left for the scientist, the artist or the musician is their art, their science, their vision …and maybe some funding from the 7th Framework Programme.
If their talent is unappreciated and deemed worthless in Spain, they will surely take it elsewhere. And I insist, it is not the fault of public policy but a national social (and fiscal) behavior that reacts adversely to talent and innovation. If we must look at life as a hat, instead of like a snake that has eaten an elephant (as Antoine de Saint Exupery put it), the Asians will blast us off the creativity map. If we do not change our culture of innovation, we will be invaded by poverty, and it is clear that the welfare state will no longer give us a free ride, by way of outright grants or vacuous government posts, where talent takes refuge like a social misfit.
If we are not willing to pay for talent, at least let’s be generous: we can acknowledge it, greet it, promote it, embrace it and feel the pride of having, though not owning or possessing, both the creators and their ideas.
“Art endeavors to educate us by revealing the least visible aspects of things.”
(Alfredo Marqueríe (1907-1974) , “Land and Love, the Praise and the Sea” from the book “23 Poems,” 1927, quoting Giovanni Papini (1886-1958), opening the section on Praise)
Yours in hope and innovation.
CEO of 4 Innovation