THE BEAUTY OF UNEXPECTED RESULTS
Expected and unexpected results
When I make pancakes I will be happy if they turn out as described on the pancake mix box. When I cut the grass and the mower gives me the expected results I can feel that I have accomplished something. But, wow, when I paint, write or witness something that was fresh and unplanned I come alive. So much of our lives we stay in cruise control, content to execute our tasks as expected and live a life of certainty. However we remain a little envious when we hear about that chef or artist that is always experimenting. Maybe we need to change our routine and add some uncertainty. Most of the people we admire are those who break the mold and change our world. Explorers in their fields like Madame Curie and Count Basie didn’t settle for the results shown on the box. They didn’t seek the expected. They were deliberately looking for the unexpected, and they got it.
UNEXPECTED RESULTS IN SCIENCE
Here are three guys who were just honored for stumbling on some unexpected results. All three were physicians who got distracted and turned to science to address a need in their practice of medicine. In science they had the luxury of looking for unexpected results.
William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza were just jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine. These three scientists made important discoveries about how cells sense and adapt to different oxygen levels Their discoveries revealed the mechanism for one of life’s most essential adaptive processes,
As an embryo grows and develops, the oxygen available changes as the tissues themselves change. Cells need a way to adjust to the amount of oxygen they have, while still doing their important jobs.
The three physicians “found the molecular switch that regulates how our cells adapt when oxygen levels drop, Cells and tissues are constantly experiencing changes in oxygen availability. These discoveries are of fundamental importance for physiology and could blaze the trail for new strategies to fight anemia, cancer and many other diseases.”
William Kaelin argues that the temptation in medical research these days is to focus on a very specific objective, but curiosity-driven research like his can really pay off.
Peter Ratcliffe said “It is important that scientists have the courage, and are allowed to derive knowledge for its own sake — i.e., independent of the perceived value at the point of creation. And the history of science tells us over and over again that the value of that knowledge can increase” in a number of random and unpredictable ways.”
This year’s Nobel winners in medicine discussed their approach to their research with glee and pride. As scientist they were searching for unexpected results wiile an engineer’s goal is to get expected results. They looked at their role much like an artist would. Artists look at all the possibilities. They plan ahead but things don’t always go as planned. Then voila something unexpected shows up and off they go in a new direction. This was the path that lead to the breakthrough in the research by the Nobel Prize winners. Pragmatism, certainty and predictability are valuable virtues but when a new vision pops into your brain maybe you should give it a chance to breathe. Thankfully research scientists and jazz musicians are allowed to pursue all avenues to success.
UNEXPECTED RESULTS IN JAZZ
Jazz musicians are constantly asked to adapt to changing circumstances. Changing directions on the fly is what jazz musicians do. They take risks. We have all seen the moment when suddenly a bunch of musicians do the unexpected and spontaneously burst into new territory. Jazz can be a little untidy, unpredictable, and sometimes chock full of uncertainty, but is is sure fun to play and to listen to. It is full of unpredictable characters. Here’s one.
Photograph: William P. Gottlieb
Thelonious Monk was a taciturn man who cared little about staying on course. Probably that is why is so revered. He saw no reason to verbally explain what he felt his music was saying. He had a habit of getting up and dancing to the solos of his bandmates, He sought new ways of revisiting groupings of notes he’d already put in order, knowing that there were infinite possibilities . He was stubborn and insisted on playing slow”when he could play as fast. He played the piano with a percussive, splay-fingered playing style that shouldn’t work. He didn’t see his chords as being different, they were the logical result of countless hours of musical exploration. He was probably his own worst enemy when he refused to do what was expected of him. Unexpectedly he changed jazz.Tenor player Johnny Griffin said Monk’s music “was like leaves on a tree. His music grew from nowhere else but inside of him.”
GET A LITTLE UNEXPECTIVENESS IN YOUR LIFE
Just this morning in the New York Times there was a full page dedicated to two very adventurous men.
Ed Clark died last Friday in Detroit at the age of 93. He was an abstract artist who painted with a broom and broke with convention by using shaped canvases because he felt that the shapes were truer to the human field of vision. He was grounded in figurative painting in Paris where he was living hand to mouth. He started using an affordable janitor’s broom on large canvases. His work is in most of the major galleries and museums. in the world.
Dr Paul Polak
Paul Polack died recently at 86 years old. He was a successful psychiatrist who pivoted to advocating training the world’s poorest people to earn a living by selling basic necessities like clean water and charcoal. Dr Polack has come up with countless ideas to make life better for millions of people who survive on $2/day. One of his ideas was to make water containers in the shape of a wheel that could be rolled instead of carried on the head.
These guys didn’t passively seek expected results they actively pursued a path that had unexpected positive results for themselves and others. Bravo.
As a disclaimer, I am not an expert on how anyone should live their life. Not all unexpected results turn out to be life or world saving. There can be really bad endings when you veer off the road on an unknown path, but I think it is worth the risk.
For a demonstrative display go to your local jazz club. Catch some artists discovering a new note or two, unexpectedly.
THIS WEEK AT THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
October 23 – October 29
THE DETROIT JAZZ FESTIVAL ALL STARS
Chris Collins has the job of putting together an all star band. In a great jazz town like Detroit, this is one tough editing job. Most of the artists on any Detroit jazz list are deserving and usually answer their phones. Chris’s primary job is to bring together talented individuals who will best create the style of music that he envisions
Next week the All Stars will again celebrate Detroit’s influence on jazz. The all stars will bring together some of our town’s greatest jazz musicians to play for what is always a knowledgeable house. They will not disappoint us.
All stars appearing this week: