The Secret to Brilliance: Dance Like Dynamite

The Secret to Brilliance: Dance Like Dynamite

There’s this incredible scene at towards the end of Napoleon Dynamite, where the scorned and dejected protagonist throws off the shackles of his miserable high-school existence and boogies like a blistering god:

During this epic show, the haters hate. Don and Summer, the school’s grimy alpha pair, give their usual dismissive smirks, but on Napoleon goes, lost in the dance, oblivious for a brilliant moment to the social contexts that have kept him down. The result? Thunderous applause. Standing ovation. Transcendence.

So how does he pull off this social, and ultimately creative, transformation? Or to make it really easy: How do you transcend your social contexts and become something bigger than anyone else can see? Click To Tweet

There are a couple of small details in the movie that set-up Napoleon’s moment of glory. While buying some thrift-shop clothes for the sad-ass school dance, he picks up an ancient-looking D’Kwon’s Dance Grooves VHS tape. It seems innocuous enough, but later we see him practicing D’Kwon’s moves in his room, working up a sweat. In the same scene, Napoleon’s brother’s girlfriend, who’s visiting from out of town, sees him dancing and gives him a cassette tape of her cousin’s music to check out.

That’s it. That’s the deadly combo that leads to Napoleon’s killer moment later on. Huh?

It seems like a lot is left up to fate in this scenario. It seems really specific to Napoleon’s situation, but I don’t actually think it is. I think there’s a pattern that can be replicated here, and not just when you need to bust a groove:

  1. Pull ideas from larger contexts — Brilliance resides precisely in approaching problems from unexpected directions. You can be intelligent, getting really good at solving problems in the way others have, but to be brilliant, you have to tap into the larger world. Fortunately this is easy with magic Internet, but Napoleon still manages to explode his crappy Iowan high-school existence with two pieces of old-school media. Nicely done.
  2. Try stuff out — To quote Jamiroquai’s “Just Dance”, the song from the movie: “I’ve gotta hang up all my hang ups. Cause Imma boogie I feel hellbent.” Napoleon grabs the VHS tape from a thrift store. He does it out of interest. He has no idea where it’s going. He builds a repertoire of things he likes and knows about for its own sake. He unleashes them when the time is right, which leads to…
  3. Seize the moment — I love that Napoleon’s dance isn’t planned. He sees a moment where his friend is hurting, and he has to act to help. It’s courage, plain and simple. The universe doesn’t care about your very legitimate reasons for not going with your gut in a situation. As Virgil said, Audaces fortuna iuvat: Fortune favours the bold.

Notions like “transcendence” and “brilliance” almost start to border on the mystical, but there’s no magic here. It’s more of an odds game. Are you ready to start staking them in your favour? Go!

Brilliance resides precisely in approaching problems from unexpected directions. Click To Tweet

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  • rowan

    February 22, 2016

    This scene exemplifies so much the toiling away at an issue, privately, with found resources until the big reveal!

    It might be the best metaphor for entrepreneurial life.
    Dance Dance Dance

    • Ryan Melsom

      February 22, 2016

      You said it! I like the observation about it being “privately.” I was recently reading a blog post by top creative professional Katy Cowan on her road to success, and she made an insightful comment about how people were always telling her how “she makes it look so easy.” She had to laugh. It took her years to find her following, and it was exactly through the kind of private toiling behind the scenes you’re talking about. Thanks for the comment.


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