“If he continues to play that way, the organ will be ruined in two years, or most of the congregation will be deaf.” The statement was made by the employer of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Needless to say, the man was dead wrong about his estimation of this kid organ player. Bach became a musical leader; he revolutionized how music was perceived by Europeans. Bach simply heard something few others could hear and appreciate at the time. This is true about many emerging leaders. He was, to use a cliché, ahead of his time. Quite often, innovation begins when a new generation swims upstream against the “current” of the current world. They don’t want to merely be “thermometers” reflecting the climate around them. They want to be “thermostats.”
Granted, Bach may have been a lousy organ player in his younger years. It’s very possible his employer was right—had he continued to play the way he did, he would have ruined the organ. However, if this is true, I wonder if it was simply a case of the proverbial late bloomer. He obviously came into his own at some point and folks saw it. Perhaps he was in the same boat these late bloomers once floated in…
* It’s common knowledge Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team.
* As a youngster, Walt Disney got fired by a newspaper because he had no good ideas.
* Albert Einstein couldn’t speak until he was 4 years old. He didn’t read until he was 7.
* According to Beethoven’s music teacher: “As a composer, he is hopeless.”
* As a boy, his teachers said Thomas Edison was so stupid he’d never learn anything.
* Missile and satellite expert Dr. Wernher Von Braun flunked math as a teenager.
* A coach said Vince Lombardi: “…has minimal football knowledge. Lacks motivation.”
* Sir Isaac Newton finished next to the lowest in his class and failed geometry.
* Eighteen publishers rejected Richard Bach’s bestseller: Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
* After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the MGM director said, “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” (Astaire hung that memo in his Beverly Hills home.)
My point is this. Many—perhaps most—influential culture or thought leaders got off to a slow start. For some, they were simply ahead of their time, but were perceived as slow or simply strange and irrelevant. But they weren’t at all.
Tomorrow, I invite you to read Part Two of this blog series, where we uncover how we should lead and respond to these young leaders in front of us.