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DOCtalk by Dr. Gregg 9/24/11

September 24, 2011 News No Comments

If It’s Good Enough for Abe …

Sometimes, as I’m sure most of you know, it is downright impossible to get any "just for fun" reading in these days between all the business briefs, e-mails, news snippets, Tweets, quoted sound bites, and … ahem … blogs. Video via YouTube, TV, Hulu, or Netflix (or Qwikster, should it survive the organizational faux pas fiascos of late) demand our time and attention while stimulating satisfying cerebral serotonin surges that far surpass anything an old-fashioned read can ever dream of delivering.

Thus for many of us, the simple pleasure of a good book or in-depth magazine article has become almost a fond, quaint, nostalgic notion from days long past – like the distant 1990s, if any of you can still remember that far back.

To my pure pleasure and enlightenment, I found time to read a wonderful little article – from start to finish! – today while flying to a conference. (Forced "unplug time"… I’m loving it! Well, until I decided to iPad this piece 37,000 feet over Oklahoma.)

Anyway, the story was in National Geographic‘s "Exploring History" and was on young Abraham Lincoln in his pre-presidential years. Describing young Abe as "born radical," it discussed the things, events, and circumstances – along with the personal predispositions – that made the most-hated man of his time also the most revered American president and one of the most-studied and quoted persons of all time. 

Most of us have the ingrained image from our school days inculcation of young Abe reading a book by firelight in his little log cabin. Maybe we remember he was good with an axe ("The Railsplitter") or that he was from Illinois (even though he actually Kentucky-born and Indiana-raised.)

But consider this: as a young man of 22 when he landed in New Salem, Illinois, a town populated by "roughs and bullies," Abe was described by one of the local residents to be "as rough a specimen of humanity as could be found." Also notable was his ability to remain poor, even "penniless," and mired in his own, self-described "national debt" for years. But one of my favorite young Abe descriptors is, "he was young and gregarious, and he liked to pull pranks, spin a ribald yarn…, and talk politics."

I love that Abe was quite the antithetical and even anachronistic man for his time, that "growing up in a land of hunters, he spurned hunting; in a land of overt religiosity, he was a skeptic and kept his beliefs private; in a frontier society preoccupied with physical labor, he disdained it; in and environment indifferent to education, he had a passion for learning; … surrounded by slavery sympathizers, he opposed it."

This delightful article left me considering why I have always found inspiration in the outsiders, in those who don’t necessarily agree with the "way we’ve always done things" (a phrase I personally find one of the most abhorrent and counterproductive of all time), and in those who aren’t afraid to call it as it is (and maybe even tell a "ribald joke" on occasion.)

Such folks, those who are truly original and unencumbered by the considerations of popular consent, are few and far between. But, I just love when I encounter one of them or the efforts which spring from their free and generative minds. 

"Free and generative" doesn’t mean "free spirited." In fact, some of the most creative and original thinkers I know are mired in obsessive-compulsive ways or are such workaholics that they might seem more lockstep than free-flowing. (Consider the hours and hours spent alone by the light of the monitor of a certain someone doling out irreverent, slightly cynical, but almost always insightful HIT commentary for a certain "News & Opinion" Web site.)

Yet, it is this same internal contrarianism which seems to spark the tinder of originality to ignition. These are the people who are the originators, who bring us all up a level, who allow us to see beyond our unquestioning “that’s how it’s done because that’s how it’s done” mindsets.

HIStalk is running an Innovator Showcase series which helps bring to the fore some of these types: the people who can see things a little differently, who can combine previously unassociated things or ideas to create novel advances, the folks who are unafraid to go against the norm.

I’m tickled to see these upstart start-ups (and I’m happily involved with one of them!) I love seeing how they challenge the accepted standard approaches and try to bring useful variants to life. Their irreverence for "what is" and their eagerness to combine the heretofore uncombined is, for me, invigorating. It is, after all, what Abe did. And, if it’s good enough for Abe … 

For a little fun and in keeping with this theme, I’d like to highly recommend this little video entitled I’m a VC: Be Smarter than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. It combines the irreverent spirit of Abe and the comedic hip hop stylings of a bunch of VC white boys. How unconventional can you get? I thought of it as I was thinking about those startup innovators and thought that they — and hopefully all of you — might be able to both appreciate it and get a good chuckle from it, too.

From the respectfully irreverent trenches …

“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” – Abraham Lincoln

Dr. Gregg Alexander, a grunt in the trenches pediatrician at Madison Pediatrics, is Chief Medical Officer for Health Nuts Media, directs the Pediatric Office of the Future exhibit for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and sits on the board of directors of the Ohio Health Information Partnership (OHIP).

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