Article Date: 9/1/2013

Lessons Learned
lessons learned

What Trumps a Brilliant Mind?

A brilliant mind with common sense, as Borish and Maitenez showed us.



Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went camping and in the middle of the night, Holmes nudged his friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions and millions of stars,” replied Watson.

“And what do you deduce?”

“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

“Watson, you idiot!” he said. “It tells me that someone has stolen our tent!”

Common sense

Brilliant folks are often noted as having great knowledge, but little common sense, as demonstrated by Dr. Watson in this story. This was not the case with the late Dr. Irv Borish. He was a genius, but had practical common sense as well. Perhaps he learned some of this from his Uncle Abram.

“During the Depression years,” Borish once told me, “my Uncle Abram had trouble finding carpentry work, so he purchased a seven-passenger Chevrolet and became a taxi driver. He never learned to maneuver the huge Chevy in forward and reverse well enough to turn around in his small town’s one narrow street.


“He solved this by using a little common sense. When he was headed in the wrong direction, he’d just drive a few miles to the next town to turn around, and come back headed in the right direction.”

Another genius

It has also been my privilege to spend some time and correspond with another genius with common sense, Professor Bernard Maitenez, inventor of the Varilux progressive addition lens. A brilliant scientific mind, he also became the president of Essilor.

We’ve all met folks who think they are “big wheels,” when in reality they are really just “hub caps.” I found Maitenez to be exactly the opposite — he really is a “big wheel,” but, just like Borish, he is a very modest person.

An engineer and an optician by training, in the early 1950’s he became obsessed with the idea of developing a progressive add lens that would produce good focus at all distances, rather than just the two of a bifocal. Even though optical scientists had come to the conclusion that it was impossible, he finally succeeded in developing a machine prototype to manufacture his first lens. His first patient was his father.

“I have extreme trouble wearing them,” his father confided to a friend, “but when my son is around, I wear them so I won’t demoralize him.” Too many peripheral distortions made the lens impossible to wear. Rather than being discouraged, he doggedly kept at it, until it has become the success it is today.

Which shows that nice guys do succeed, and that success comes through perseverance… although having a brilliant mind also helps of course. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: September 2013, page(s): 90