Brilliant Minds and Great People- Not necessarily with a College Degree.


When I was a kid, I would run to my oldest brother to ask everything I ever wanted to know. He was regarded as a very knowledgeable kid in the family and very well read. He seemed to read every word of a daily newspaper and could talk intelligently on a vast spectrum of topics. So, naturally he would be my “go to” guy for everything I wanted to know. It would save me the effort and time taken to self learn. And self learning was a painful process at that age for me. Because I needed to go to the book shelf and sift through a 21 volume encyclopedia, or find another book that explains what I needed to know in a language that was not too complicated and kid friendly. While my brother enjoyed the self titled “know all, be all and end all” fame, it was easier for me to ask him and get a 2 minute kid friendly explanation.

But in today’s world several parents, teachers and subject matter experts have trouble grappling with the much sought after wisdom and knowledge being placed in the palms of these eager minds in the form of a mobile browser. What took me a lot of trouble and experience to learn in life is now readily available at lightning speed to the seeking mind. Try telling a kid today to eat his or her vegetables. They will not only disagree with your request, but they will most likely snap back with 100 other alternatives with a detailed analysis of their nutritional facts and other benefits it can offer. While a parent continue to pick up the bill for all that data browsing and downloads they seldom are able to refute their claims.

I grew up in a traditional mind set family where a College Degree was a “must”. A college degree will get be a job, help me make a decent living and if I were to get myself a Masters Degree it will make me “Successful”. But like many other kids, I begged to differ. I wanted to start up a business and become a successful business man. Start up a Restaurant and develop it into a franchise. Open a car dealership, start up a family recreation center, a video game center, and the list would never end. I would wake up with the “Eureka!” mind at 3:00 am with a full business plan, numbers and profit margins. Next morning I would put it n paper, make up a few excel sheets, and by that evening I am driving my fancy car, and living in a fancy house in my mind. Although reality would always poke a tiny hole into my bubble, I would not let it deflate with the highly impressive list of many successful people who either didn’t attend college or were college drop outs.

What stopped me from pursuing my business plans were a few harsh realities of life. The capital to start these businesses, who can fund my dreams, how much will I have to give up on my profits to get the funding, the complexities of getting a license and Government formalities, securing a location and the time and money involved in that process, getting reliable and affordable staff, sustainability of the business until it begins to see profit, the courage to face the repercussions of failure (internally and externally), the much dreaded “I told you so” from those who mattered the most to me and above all, the fear of failure.

So, after mulling over a dozen brilliant business plans and eventually seeing others come up with the same idea, start it up and make it into a smashing success, I crawled back into school, got myself a “College Degree” with a high GPA and came out roaring with arrogant confidence of getting into a Multi national corporation and making my way to the top. Once again the realities packed a heavy punch at every step. Getting a job without experience, getting into the right role or something that matched the skills I have gained in College (Marketing) and getting the job soon was not something I never thought would be a problem. Companies often want people with experience, Industry experience to be specific, then once you get a job, you quickly learn that text book wisdom is a lot different from corporate practices. No one asks you to define the principles of marketing, Instead they expect you to cow down to corporate politics, accept the grey area as the best place to be, righteousness is sacrificed at the alter of corporate diplomacy and stroking the egos of those in power becomes the norm. You quickly learn that many senior executives often take very bad business decisions, run major corporations to the ground, are often blinded with power and arrogance, and are least connected to the fundamentals of business, code of ethics and sound business conduct. What truly prevails is the stock price, profitability at any cost, growth by any means, and bulldozing your way to the top within an organization by doing as you are told and not based on what you have learned or believe is the right thing to do. And yes, what surprises the most is the fact that some of these bad top executives have the “College Degree” Also what one learns quickly is that many top managers in many big organizations are there due to what they call “Battle Field Promotions”. That is when a manger quits for what ever reasons, the next person in line who can do the job gets promoted to that position. There are many times this decision is based on favoritism rather than merit. An unquestioning able robot who can follow orders and feel obliged for getting the job for the rest of his time in the company will be considered the best fit.

My college degree sits in a sticky folder and hasn’t seen the light of day ever for a very long time. It may need to come out if I seek another job and if they require to see it. But most likely they will see the experience in the resume and take me up for the extensive experience I have rather than what I learned at school. Because, like any other corporation, they too are seeking for the Unquestioning Robots who will feel obliged and obey the hiring manager. Yes if chance permits I may be able to make a difference in an organization. But I still prefer to open up my restaurant. Perhaps I will one day soon.

So, what good is a “College Degree” really? Other than a technical degree for a  specialized professional job requirement such as an Engineer, Doctor, a Lawyer, an Architect, etc, a College Degree gives you a good fundamental of the thought process needed for a sound business or job to be executed successfully. And success is a very relative term. Success can be seen as job satisfaction for some, financial success for some and or social status. And the most successful ones are often those who have all three of them. And this is seldom found in the ruthless corporate world unless you managed to be there at the right place at the right time for a battle field promotion or done what every it takes to get there in the shortest possible time. Hence, for many youths who see their parents and others struggling with such stress within a corporate world, a business seems to be a great way to go. Some get too eager and unrealistic with this idea and some go through the fundaments of formal education and then choose to drop out. And many get into college and then venture out other business ideas. A Shark tank, or a Dragons Den solicits and rewards many such minds. Even in these shows on TV, you will find many Successful Highly Experienced Millionaires disagree with a business idea and only find out later that the idea succeeded and the entrepreneur make it big.

And we all know a good deal of Engineers, professionals, College Degree Holders etc who are very poor personalities and at times despicable individuals, They may have a formal education but their mind sets, thinking, behaviors, arrogance, social skills, characters often fall short of respectability. Many of them are unethical, ruthless, greedy, egoistic, prejudiced, and bitter people. Just like any other individual regardless of their formal education they too have several flaws. Having a formal education doesn’t make anyone a better individual or a person. But what truly builds greater people is self development, humility, brilliance, sound character and morally high thinking. Great people learn and change and continuously keep this processing going all through their lives. Weather you are a college drop out or a highly educated individual, being a great person and achieving success is an endeavor of the human spirit and mind.

Once again there is a long list of School and College drop outs and some who never went to school stand as a proof that a College Degree is not really necessary. Here is a short list of such people that include, Presidents, leading Business man, worlds richest, billionaires, Tech Giants, Inventors, Critical Thinkers who shaped and continue to shape our world:

Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell, Inc., dropped out of college at 19.

Henry Ford never graduated high school, but went on to start one of the largest automobile manufacturing companies in the world, Ford Motor Company.

Bill Gates, a college dropout, has been named the richest person in the world by Forbes magazine 27 times. Bill Gates, who was 10 points away from a perfect score on the SAT, enrolled at HarvardCollege in 1973 only to take a leave of absence two years later to form a partnership with classmate Paul Allen.. 

Andrew Jackson, is most-known for being the 6th president of the United States, but was also a military governor, Army commander, an attorney, and a congressman – all without ever going to college.

Rachel Ray hasn’t had any formal culinary training, including college, but has several cooking shows on the Food Network, a talk show on NBC, several New York Times bestselling cookbooks, and her own magazine

John D. Rockefeller Sr., a high school dropout, became the first American billionaire and is said to be the richest man in history. He founded Standard Oil, the first multinational corporation, in 1870..

Steven Spielberg, is a movie director and producer. Spielberg was denied acceptance to film school and dropped out of CaliforniaStateUniversity in Long Beach. He co-founded DreamWorks, a major film studio that’s produced several of the highest grossing movie hits and Academy award winning films.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social networking site Facebook.  He developed Facebook one year on summer vacation after borrowing money from Paypal’s co-founder Peter Theil.

Abraham Lincoln, lawyer, U.S. president. Finished one year of formal schooling, self-taught himself trigonometry, and read Blackstone on his own to become a lawyer.

Benjamin Franklin, inventor, scientist, author, entrepreneur. Primarily home-schooled.

David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue airlines. Dropped out of college after three years.

David Ogilvy, advertising executive and copywriter . Was expelled from OxfordUniversity at the age of 20.

David Oreck, multimillionaire founder of The Oreck Corporation. Quit college to enlist in the Army Air Corps.

Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery. Later renamed, franchised, then sold Mrs. Field's Cookies.

DeWitt Wallace, founder and publisher of Reader’s Digest. Dropped out of college after one year. Went back, then dropped out again after the second year.

Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel. Started the company in high school, and never attended college.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the most influential architect of the twentieth century. Never attended high school.

James Cameron, Oscar-winning director, screenwriter, and producer. Dropped out of college.

Kirk Kerkorian, billionaire investor, owner of MandalayBay and Mirage Resorts, and MGM movie studio. Dropped out eighth-grade.

Larry Ellison, billionaire co-founder of Oracle software company. Dropped out of two different colleges.

Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Mobile, and more. Dropped out of high school at 16.

Shawn Fanning, developer of Napster. Dropped out of college at the age of 19.

Simon Cowell, TV producer, music judge, American Idol, The X Factor, and Britain’s Got Talent. High school dropout.

Steve Madden, shoe designer. Dropped out of college.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, billionaire. Did not complete college.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, phonograph, and more. Primarily home-schooled, then joined the railroad when he was only 12.

Ben Affleck, actor, screenwriter. Left the University of Vermont after one semester; then dropped out of OccidentalCollege to pursue acting.

Andre Agassi, tennis player, winner of 8 Grand Slam titles. Quit school in the ninth grade and turned tennis pro at the age of 16. His father would drive the kids to school but, instead, actually took them to local tennis courts to practice.

Roman Abramovich, richest man in Russia, billionaire. Dropped out of college. He studied at the Moscow State Auto Transport Institute before taking a leave of absence from academics to go into business. He later earned a correspondence degree from the MoscowStateLawAcademy.

Paul Allen, billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, founder of Xiant software, owner of Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. Dropped out of the University of Washington to work for Honeywell. A year later he convinced Bill Gates to drop out of Harvard and move to Albuquerque, New Mexico to start up Microsoft.

Dhirubhai Ambani, billionaire Indian businessman and founder of Reliance Group of companies. India’s biggest business house. High school dropout.

Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, software programmer. Studied mathematics at the University of Melbourne but dropped out because other students were doing research for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Although the above impressive list of greats do not have a College Degree there are certain things about them that are common and imperative for an individual to have in order to be successful. They have managed to surpass the College Degree holders in terms of wealth, happiness, success, talent, intelligence and creativity because they all posses certain qualities that are destined to drive behaviors that helps them accomplish such dreams. Here are some vital characteristics of such people:

Brilliance: They see things differently and challenge the norm. Only information that pertains to their success interests them and the rest is boring. They tend to challenge the teachers, feel compelled to think more about the “why not?” than the usual “why?” Clear, intelligent and focused ideas comes to them naturally.

Courage: They have the courage to stand up to the norm. They accept challenges willingly with an analytical mind and the possibility of failure doesn’t deter them. They defy common thinking and find viable arguments to defend their stance.

Problem solving skills: They love problems and thrive in complex turbulent environments. They are the masters of Zen within chaos. They approach every problems as their unique opportunity to develop a solution and they get to it with eager interests. The excitement of developing solutions and impressing others motivates them. But at the same time, they are like the Buddhas of business. They are very calm and collected in complex situations. They are the silent monks who will see, analyze, think and speak few words of brilliant wisdom.

Confidence: They are defiantly confident. They understand and cherish their potential. They thrive on showmanship and prove themselves to others. They love the recognition and adulations that they can garner by their success. They are the people who will walk up to a stranger and talk up a storm. They do not shy away from unfamiliar environments. Instead they jump both feet in and learn.

Manage Criticism: Unlike many of us who succumb to criticism and ridicule, they challenge it when and where possible or deflect it by ignoring them. They prefer not to waste their time on negative thinking and defending negative arguments. But they also value other peoples feedback. Especially from those who they have given the right to offer them unsolicited advice.

Risk: They take risks. Often their risk taking is a calculated decision and are based on accepting the consequences of failure. But nevertheless they like to take risks and push the buttons to see if it works. They may seem reckless to other conventional thinkers, but they are the tight rope walkers. They know what they are doing and master the art of balance. They may fall too, but they have that planned as well and have an acceptable safety net they know they will land on. Hence they dare to punch their cube from the inside and turn it into a sphere. Why not?

Get Educated: They learn! They do not need the confinement of a formal educational system and class room environment. They are their own teachers. They explore, ask questions, try things out, learn from their experiences (successes and failures both). They read and discuss their interests with the subject matter experts or people with similar interests. They doodle and make short notes within which sits their brilliant formulas. They may not have a birds eye perspective at times, but their attention to details kills the birds of prey. They are meticulous in gathering information and organizing the data required to suit their interest.

Hard and Smart Work: They work relentlessly towards achieving their dreams. They put in both, hard and smart work behind their projects. They work and think even when they are asleep. Their nights are filled with brilliant thinking and days with putting their ideas to work. They may at times mull over extended periods of time over certain things and do nothing meanwhile. But this is their way to generate the ideas and energy for their next bout of tireless work.

Salespeople: They are most importantly excellent sales people. They sell their personality, brilliance, ideas and impress the people who matter to them. They can get people to see and share their ideas. They talk with passion and sparkle in their eyes and wear a confident smile when they are expressing their ideas. They exude confidence n their ideas and convince others to jump into their wagon for a wile ride. They do not waste time on those who fail to see their ideas and are quick to move their focus to the buyers.

If you share these qualities, then you are probably a good fit to become the next dream come true. Regardless of you having a College Degree or not, these are the qualities that makes successful people. This may be too much to accept if you are a conventional and traditional thinker. But in the world of today (which is clearly not the world a conventional thinker belongs), such brilliant futuristic thinkers are the ones who will thrive and survive. They are the people who will take this world of our forward. The above list of individuals were the inspirational leaders of their times. They defies the traditional think patters and moved this world ahead.

So, if you see the qualities of such brilliance in a child, nurture them and fuel their passion with support and encouragement. Let their minds learn and explore. Understand their Colleges, Universities, lessons and text books are sitting in their little palms. Encourage them to use it wisely. Enable and unleash the creative geniuses within them.  If they have the right support structures and critical strategic nudges in the right direction they will be alright. They will fall on their feet and keep running. It may take a lot to accept this changing times and realties. But you are either coping with this fact or battling with it.

Getting a formal college degree is certainly a great thing. It certainly opens many doors and increases a god paying job and establish a what is called a “regular life”. But in the times of unreasonably expensive education, failing economies, falling corporations, and technological advancement, do not fear new thinking and daring young minds. The potential of today’s young minds is exponential in comparing to ours. Do not fear them. They are the ordinary minds seeking to achieve the extraordinary things in life. And there is nothing stopping them but themselves. Allow them to carve out their destiny, fight their own battles, gloat on their well earned victories and bask on their glories. For they are the ones who have moved forward!