• Scott Herring

History's Renegades (Inspiration to Be Different)

I wanted to share some perspective on what it is to be different. No one remembers the third guy to do something, do they? No, we remember the one who did it first, or with style, or with a special meaning. Here's a list of memorable renegades, history's renegades who can inspire you to work, think, and write differently.

Business: Steve Jobs

It may seem cliche to list Jobs, but in fifty years, any student of history will see how his renegade approach to technology made a lasting impact. Computing was a 'business' discipline until Apple brought it to everyone. Personal computers were hobbyist pursuits at best. And democratizing computing had a substantial impact on the world. Jobs saw the possibility and brought it to fruition. But he didn't stop there. His entre into the phone market revolutionized it as well (I had been a card-carrying Blackberry user - how did that work out?). Jobs zigged when they zagged. He was a renegade's renegade.

Innovation: Sir James Dyson

In 1978 Dyson, having grown impatient with clogged air filters in his factory, built a cyclone particle collector similar to devices used in larger industrial plants, such as sawmills. He later adapted this solution to home vacuum cleaners, testing over 5,000 different prototypes. Manufacturers of traditional bag-type vacuum cleaners showed zero interest in Dyson’s invention. He sold his G-Force design to a company in Japan, where it became a commercial success. Later, in 1993, Dyson opened his own plant. Within two years his Dual Cyclone model became the top-selling vacuum cleaner in England, even though it was considerably more expensive than competitors. Dyson won numerous design awards and later worked on many other products, including ventilators used in the coronavirus pandemic.

Literature: Hunter S. Thompson

When I first read Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 novel (or is it?) recounting some wild days of revelry, I knew he was unlike any other writer I had encountered. He's known as the guy responsible for the term “Gonzo journalism." He was partying way too much and challenging norms, from what an interview looked like to what topics writers should select to how much alcohol & drugs one could possibly ingest. If you're looking for a distinctive voice in your writing, pick up something by Thompson.

Gender: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Long before she became the second female justice every on the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Ginsburg was cutting against the grain. Her path through law school and later law firms showed moxie and true renegade thinking. "Your rules suck" was her attitude, but without being abrasive. She had to work harder and smarter than the men, and when she did, she advanced. Once on the Supreme Court, she became an outspoken advocate for (and defender of) the rights of minority groups - as a Jewish woman in what had long been a Caucasian man's realm, she spoke to her experience. Whether you agree with her 'liberal' (ugh, do we have to label it?) viewpoints, you have to acknowledge that she was a rebel in her arena.

Music: David Bowie

Rebel, Rebel. It's even a song title by David Bowie. Whether it was Ziggy Stardust or Let's Dance, Bowie was mixing things up. He reinvented himself numerous times. When he passed in January 2016, the rock community mourned one of its biggest influencers. As evidence of his importance, several music icons are playing tributes in January 2021, honoring David Bowie's 74th birthday posthumously. The lineup includes other renegades of rock: Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction), and Ian Astbury (The Cult). Suffice it to say if you're a rebel who influences other rebels, you've earned your renegade merit badge.

Film: Sean Penn

One of my favorite actors, Sean Penn is a cinematic chameleon. He's played stoned surfer Jeff Spicolli (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), scary death row inmate Matthew Poncelet (Dead Man Walking), shady Jewish attorney Dave Kleinfeld (Carlito's Way), and volatile rookie cop Danny McGavin (Colors). Penn has always selected roles that challenged him (and yes, he made some bad choices along the way). In the end, he has created a colorful, successful body of work that showcases his range. He didn't take the easy road -- he took the dangerous (but rewarding) one.

Food: Emeril Lagasse

"BAM!" In the mid 90s, cooking shows appeared only on public broadcasting networks. When the fledgling cable network FoodTV came along, they immediately saw success because of a spicy Cajun chef named Emeril. His Louisiana drawl, confidence behind the stove, and high energy were noteworthy. In one memorable episode, he flipped a piece of sauteed chicken, revealing the perfect golden brown crust. He looked straight into the camera and exclaimed, "That's why I have a cooking show and you don't."

Sports: Muhammad Ali

When you hear the expression "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee", you probably envision the iconic figure who first spoke those words. "The Greatest", Muhammad Ali, embodied renegade style throughout his career. Cassius Clay, the young African-American boxing phenom, believed in a cause. He literally fought for it. He was as flamboyant a sports figure in the 60s and 70s as there ever has been. His bravado was legendary, his skill unrivaled, and his rebelliousness remarkable.

Use Renegades to Inspire Your Own Writing

Be different. Look to those who have made their mark for inspiration. Jobs crushed the computer industry and later the mobile phone industry. Bowie influenced music for generations to follow. Ali shaped a relationship between sports figures and civic responsibility, extending on what Jackie Robinson had done in baseball. Ali was colorful, courageous, and outspoken. Ginsburg stuck up for the weak, despite her diminutive size, becoming a giant in American history. Let these stories inspire you. Find others like them. Let them inspire you to. It's about blazing new trails, not driving the same old ones. That's what being a renegade means...


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