Expertise – an anecdote


When you are making a mess of your life, the other people generously assist you to make it undoubtedly a mess.  They don’t always do it out of malice.  In fact, at least a few of them genuinely want to help you.  Finally when you are down in the unfathomable pit and make your own choices that go against all the accepted wisdom of the marketplace, they will wash their hands off saying, ‘Vinashakale vipareeda buddhi.’  Apart from distancing themselves from the irredeemable situation, they are also heaping the entire blame on you with that one wag of the tongue: one shot, two birds.

That’s a summary of a few years of my late thirties. One of the many valuable lessons I leant in those years is that expertise of any kind is a very, very rare thing in the world of human affairs.  Later, when I managed to pull the fragments of my life together and started weaving the fabric of life anew, this lesson became clearer.  I have seen again and again how dilettantes keep making a mess of other people’s lives and of institutions.  It has made me pine for expertise.  Maybe, that’s why I fell in love with Paul Rand as I read about him in the biography of Steve Jobs [by Walter Isaacson].  I fell in love with him so much that I want to share what I read even before I’m halfway through the biography. 

The congenital vipareeda buddhi (intractability? – you’re welcome to offer a suitable translation) of Steve Jobs had got him into vinashkal (time of nemesis?) at Apple Computers.  He was ousted unceremoniously from the firm he had given shape to by the man whom (John Sculley) he had brought in.  Jobs started a new firm, NeXT.  He wanted a logo for NeXT.  None other than “the dean of corporate logos,” Paul Rand, was  roped in to design the logo.

Rand was the creator of the IBM logo and under that contract he could not create a logo for a competitor.  But Jobs, with his characteristic stubbornness and manipulation, succeeded in circumventing the contract.  Jobs explained his vision to Rand and demanded a few options of the logo for him to make the final choice.  Rand declared bluntly that he did not create different options for clients.  “I will solve your problem, and you will pay me,” he told Jobs.  “You will use what I produce, or not, but I will not do options, and either way you will pay me.”

Jobs paid $100,000 for the logo that Rand designed.  When Jobs suggested one minor change in the logo (the shade of the yellow), Rand banged his fist on the table and said, “I’ve been doing this for fifty years, and I know what I’m doing.” 

It’s that kind of confident expertise that I pine for.  Well, it’s quite a different matter that a few years later Jobs asked Rand to design the cover of his sister’s (Mona Simpson, the daughter of Jobs’ biological parents) novel and the design was discarded as “God-awful.”




About matheikal

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4 Responses to Expertise – an anecdote

  1. Sid says:

    I like Vughan Pratt. You should see the Sun Microsystem’s ambigram. It is widely considered the best logo, ever designed. The more I see it, the more it catches on me. Sheer Brilliance.

    • matheikal says:

      Sid, that could very well be. I wasn’t promoting Paul Rand – anyway, he’s no more and doesn’t require any promotion. I was only trying to highlight the significance of the self-confidence he exuded. The kind of confidence in one’s ability that I look forward to…

  2. Sunil Deepak says:

    Most of the time when I am super-confident about being right, a few days later, I discover that I was wrong .. so experience has taught me to be suspicious of those who come as “confident experts” .. 🙂

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