The mind of a Maverick. Watching an orchestral concert on television, I was struck by an oblique idea when I saw a close-up of the violin section. 10 first violinists (and ditto for the second violins) were playing exactly the same notes on strings that had no frets. They looked occasionally at their sheet music, and sometimes at the conductor, but never at their strings. Even at speed their fingers all hit exactly the right spots to produce, precisely the right notes.
If even one of them got it slightly wrong, it would have been discordant.
The mind of a Maverick …
When I was teaching myself to play the guitar, I reached a point when, if I thought about the music, I could pluck the right chords. But the moment I looked at the frets or thought about the chord shapes, I went wrong. A violinist told me the same thing happened to her. The moment she thought about what she did instinctively, it fell apart.
Consider gymnasts, especially those who throw themselves about and land precisely on a beam 4 inches wide. Or the aerial acrobats in a circus. Is it a gift or just muscle memory that enables them to do the right thing without thinking about it?
My oblique idea was to look for a parallel in problem solving and the way in which some people’s brains defy the standard processes. They seem to make an instinctive leap, these individuals with the mind of a maverick.
Those people have the uncanny knack of spotting the solution to a problem even before all the evidence is in. It’s as though they can see beyond the horizon. That quality, that aptitude, goes beyond solution-finding, which some sceptical people might dismiss as simply having a quicker calculator in their brains.
It’s called perspicacity. And it’s much more than quick thinking or the ability to process information more swiftly than others. Perspicacity is the ability to see far beyond the obvious, to understand more deeply the significance of the evidence or the situation being considered, to spot the remote root cause of a problem and to propose an approach or solution that others cannot.
Mavericks are perspicacious.
They are the ones who do not raise their hands to answer the teacher’s question because they know what answer is expected, and they see a totally different possibility as well. They are the ones who are likely to respond by saying it depends on the context or the criteria. And they are the ones (with the mind of a maverick) who annoy GPs by suggesting an approach that the medic had not considered.
In the 17th century, the philosopher Descartes wrote that intelligence consisted of perspicacity and sagacity. He called the former intuition, which is the process of knowing the answer without bothering with the process of getting there. A perspicacious person is invaluable in brain storming, blue sky thinking and in the uncharted waters of mental health.
Sagacity, on the other hand, is the capacity to discern what is relevant and make good judgements. It means “wisdom”, and a sagacious person makes a sound advisor to business or political leaders, and probably excels in financial investments.
When I worked at Reader’s Digest in London, I was elected head of the House Committee, a sort of union for all non-managerial employees. At one point, several of the (politically) active staff members wanted some changes to employee rights, and the committee drew up a list of recommendations which I was asked to present to the Chairman.
The established procedures required me to go first to the Head of HR, and he was anti any changes proposed by staff, however desirable they might be. However, he was obliged to arrange for me to see the Chairman, a man whose perspicacity enabled him to resolve the matter in minutes.
His solution was this. “I see that you cannot go back empty-handed, especially as there is merit in what you are proposing. So, what we shall do is this: I will implement the changes you are requesting, but as my own initiative, rather than as one coming from the staff.” It was a neat solution, avoiding a problem with the company’s established ways, as represented by the HR Director’s resistance, and yet enabling me to achieve our aims.
Some of this may be connected to the way we communicate non-verbally. Such communication is essentially two-way. On one level it’s about illustrating our own intended meaning, but on another level, it’s about understanding how we are being received, and also knowing what the other person wants to hear.
A study led by the University of Warwick examined how young children used gestures to communicate in the absence of speech. The 4-year olds instinctively segmented information, language-like, to communicate only one piece of information at a time. This may derive from their focus on the other person rather than on what they want to communicate. That very acuity, that intuition for detail, may have a connection to the insight we call perspicacity.
In 1936 the artist Rene Magritte painted a picture which he called Perspicacity. It depicted an artist at work, focusing his attention on an egg, but actually painting an adult bird in flight. He was clearly a person of independent or unorthodox views.
Paradoxically, for all their preference for separateness, Mavericks need to bond with others whose minds work the same way. They are intuitive and original, with strong convictions and a capacity to make significant improvements to the status quo. Above all, they are perspicacious.