By Dr Ian Clarke
I have been thinking about people who have changed the world but also made wrong decisions. Steve Jobs was a person who changed the world. He did not invent the personal computer, (the engineer was his friend and business partner Steve Wozniac), but he saw its potential, and later he saw the future of the i-phone.
But Steve Jobs likely hastened his own death by one fateful decision he made. When he was having a CT scan for kidney stones, the scan picked up a shadow on his pancreas which proved to be a rare tumour of the islets of Langerhans. This particular tumour could have been removed surgically at the time. However, he chose to forego surgery and use complementary medicine. He delayed for nine months, by which time the tumour had spread and finally resulted in his death. The brilliant mind, which had served him so well in seeing the future for the world, let him down in taking the obvious decision which might have protected his own future. In this case his fateful decision harmed only himself, but left the world a poorer place.
One of the most brilliant British Prime Ministers was Tony Blair who led the labour party to victory after several successive defeats, and served as Prime Minister for a decade from 1997 to 2007. However, he also aligned himself with George W Bush in the Iraq war, a decision which he strenuously defended even when it was clear there were no weapons of mass destruction, and although he expressed regret for errors in planning and execution, he stood by his decision to have Saddam Hussein removed. He was brilliant in many ways, but this fateful decision destroyed the lives of millions.
Elon Musk is one of the most brilliant engineers alive, who has changed the face of the automobile industry and space travel, and in the process is contributing hugely to the reduction in carbon emissions. He owns a solar company, a mega-battery plant which makes lithium-ion batteries, an electric car company and a boring company which is developing technology to make tunnels for transport under cities.
However, many people scratched their heads when he started making pronouncements about twitter and then went on to make an inflated offer of 44 billion dollars for a company which is losing four million dollars a day. Was this just an ego trip? Since he was unable to wriggle out of the deal, he now has to find a way to make it profitable and be the arbitrator of free speech – which puts him in a unique position, since he is also the richest man in the world. So, will he continue to be a force for good or will his takeover of Twitter result in more divisive invective being spewed across the world?
Rupert Murdock is undoubtedly a brilliant businessman who built a media empire which spans the world. His father was wealthy, but despite this Murdock’s upbringing was puritanical. Perhaps his puritanical view of life made him feel that he was at liberty to use his newspapers to expose the misdeeds of others, since his tabloids depended on gossip and scandals to increase circulation, preferably involving salacious sex of the rich and powerful. He knew instinctively what sold newspapers and used the formula again and again. He also knew how to influence politicians, which is why he had close relations with many British politicians who knew support from his tabloids could swing an election. He was then repaid by political favours in his business transactions. His dirty methods in the newspaper industry were exposed when two of his British tabloids were found guilty of phone hacking and bribery.
At the time he was in his eighties and many people thought he was finished, but he made an astonishing comeback through his support for Donald Trump. He is now 91 and shows no signs of quitting (the series ‘Succession’ is loosely based on his character), but his brilliant business acumen could have been put to better use than destroying lives through newspaper gossip to make money, and now increasing his ratings in Fox News by promoting rabid partisanship through hosts such as Tucker Carlson.
Rupert Murdock is a king maker who some would say has had a malign influence on the world, but perhaps the real evil geniuses are those who instinctively know how to tap into the masses’ deep-seated fears. Donald Trump has proved to be the embodiment of the feelings of a large section of the American population, with millions of Americans hanging on his every word. I would never have thought of Trump as brilliant, but he must surely have a gift that I did not appreciate. He is simply an evil genius and we have had such leaders before him but it did not end well. How this chapter ends we are yet to find out.