The Discoverability of Brilliance

Three Saturdays ago, I had a late night debate with my girlfriend and a friend of mine about undiscovered greatness. The question that pulled us through three bottles of wine was, “Is the recognition of brilliance an inevitability in the modern age?”

Through our debate, we decided that we needed to lay down some ground rules for our undiscovered genius to have a chance at achieving recognition.

1.) Their work must be physically manifested in a medium that is detachable from its creator.

2.) The medium must last longer than the life of the artist.

3.) The brilliance must be almost undeniable. So much so that to say otherwise is more than 50% likely to make the person you’re talking to think that you are a hipster douche.

The first two are basic. First, recognition can’t happen without actually having produced anything to be recognized. Second, the chances of discovery are massively reduced when the window of time is reduced to one human lifespan. It’s the third condition that’s tricky because it’s just so subjective. So we agreed on some examples of nearly undeniable brilliance.

Let’s start with some of those:

Van Gogh’s Starry Night


Van Gogh Starry NIght

Bach’s Cello Suite 1 Prelude

Or the performance that got us talking in the first place, Jennifer Holliday’s “I Am Telling You” (If you’re short on time, skip to 3:30)

The question of discoverability has certainly changed in the face of the Internet. It’s no longer just about diligent friends, family or patrons supporting or holding on to great works until they are found by history. The process is now far more unpredictable and chaotic. Every week, millions of people flock to fresh talent once some respected curator or authority validates it and just like most of the other big media forces in our world, it’s a system less dedicated to promoting genius and more to the entertaining.

For example, two former Berklee classmates of mine have been making cover videos for at least two years under the name Karmin. Last week, after their Chris Brown cover popped up on Reddit’s main page, their video was picked up by the blog, World Star Hip-Hop and today it has over 6 million views. It turns out, Amy had a real knack for rapping and that has been the key to their recent success. People are really drawn to the contrast of a cute white girl rapping like Nicki Minaj. It’s remarkable. It is worth commenting on.

For more on the concept of Remarkable, check out how Seth Godin reestablishes the meaning of the term in his wonderful TED Talk:

That’s great and good, but when my friends and I were debating three weeks ago, we weren’t talking about remarkable. Remarkable demands attention, but it doesn’t necessarily last. We are talking about brilliance. Brilliance is something that captures the essence of the human condition in such a timeless way that it continues to captivate and inspire for generations. It is something that becomes a part of the lineage of great works throughout history.

There is a way though, that we can apply Seth’s ideas to this conversation. Remarkable is the key that opens the door for Brilliant to walk through. It’s not enough to produce fine work. The work must be so poignant, loud, or arresting that you stop what you’re doing and pay attention.

Another modern thinker, Bob Lefsetz brings a great analogy to the innate power of brilliant work in the age of the Internet. In a recent blog piece he wrote:

You’re not creating rockets, you’re creating land mines.

A rocket blasts into the air demanding your attention and then disappears, you walk away with little memory, especially after having seen the blast off of a few.

But a land mine is something you’re always watching out for. Something that could change your life in an instant even though it was buried decades before.

But here’s the rub: We don’t know how long the Internet is going to last, let alone YouTube and all the videos on it. We do know that it won’t be forever. So really, the answer to our big question here is a resounding “No”. Nothing is inevitable because nothing is permanent.

But the odds are so much better now than they have EVER been.

To me, that is such a motivating thought. I know that I am not ‘There’ yet in terms of my bass playing or my songwriting or even my ability to gather and share thoughts with the world. I have not found my Voice in any of my pursuits. But that’s what this blog is all about: finding my Voice.

That’s all a moot point though because this conversation required fodder for testing the odds of brilliance being found today. I had nothing. Conversation over.

Then a week later, I went to Germany and I met Paul Rose. He is the best guitar player I have ever heard live or recorded.

Paul is a born and bred blues man out of England who plays the guitar with blistering technique and heart-breaking soul yet hardly anyone knows who he is…and he’s sick of being unknown.

We were both there with Warwick Basses at a massive music industry convention. Paul was playing repeat performances all weekend. Before his set at the Warwick after party, we spoke for a while about who he is and where he comes from. He told me about the ‘thirty years of mistakes, abandonment, and alcoholism’ that informed his soulful playing and the ten years he spent practicing his arse off to get those techniques down. I loved it! He seemed authentic, sincere and deeply talented. I immediately wanted to help this man get the recognition I believe he deserves.

I was never sure what the road between here and success looks like for Paul, but he has more than me to help him figure that out so I wasn’t too concerned about how big my role will be in that. I wanted to look at just one thing. If we get get a piece out there, what can it do? If all I do is record some decently high quality video of his performance, how far can that go?

So, with his permission, I went to the front of the stage for one of his shows and nearly blew my ears out capturing his renditions of ‘Little Wing’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’.


So there they are…posted this morning. I don’t know what will happen, but I can say that I do have some concerns over why nothing may happen.

1.) I’m not sure that these videos stand up as great performances to anyone who doesn’t care about guitar like I do.

2.) Guitar covers of ‘Little Wing’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ are inherently unremarkable. They are a dime a dozen. Will this hurt the chances of these videos being discovered or even cared about? Lord knows Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn are tough acts to follow and the Stanley Jordan version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is downright killer.

3.) Is Paul Rose even the best out there? He may be the best in my world, but it’s a big world out there.

So, what do you think? Have you seen undiscovered brilliance? Have you seen brilliance being discovered? How do you even define brilliant?

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One thought on “The Discoverability of Brilliance

  1. Pingback: Wobblin’ all over the world: Three Lessons on How To Capitalize When You Go Viral « Will Cady's Ego

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