Bullied Dreamers and Misfits as Childhood Role Models

Tech geniuses have childhood challenges in common.

Anish Ahluwalia, reporting for Intellectual Property Pro 

“Gangs of boys would hunt me down, push me down a flight of stairs and one time sent me to the hospital” Elon Musk shared with “60 Minutes”.  This type of childhood trauma is a common recurring event (of several) subjects featured in this article. “I was an autodidact who taught myself C++ computer programing language,” said Mark Zuckerberg. Autodidacticism is by definition the informal self-teaching process during which all our profiled subjects share that trait as a trait. Loners, the self-taught, the ones living in their heads and not interacting within the normal social rules considered best for children.

This article looks at the childhood commonalities of 5 top tech pioneers who went on to tremendously impact the world we live in through their technology patents and innovations.  What childhood developments led to the world embracing the inventions of Bill Gates (Microsoft), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Elon Musk (PayPal/Tesla), Jovan Hutton Pulitzer (Scan Commerce Scan Connect), Sergy Brin and Larry Page (Google) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)?  Surprisingly one common thread is childhood difficulties. 


Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO in a recent interview with Seth Rogen, said his childhood was riddled with being bullied and the subsequent insecurities which came from a childhood of “conquering a speech impediment” which he transformed into a tool which helped him find ways to solve tech problems in his future.  Sergy Brin’s (Google) childhood concerns were different.  He was born into the suppressive and anti-Semitic situation in his hometown of Moscow, Russia where the Communist Party forbade Jews, such as the Brin family, to pursue higher studies in particular subjects.  His family immigrated to New York but that did not end the difficult childhood.  In America, Sergey was bullied for his thick Russian accent. 

For Musk, being routinely bullied led him to learn how to defend himself with karate, judo, and wrestling. By 16, he tells CNBC he was “dishing it out as hard as they’d give it to me.” Jovan Hutton Pulitzer who shares the same bullied, autodidact, socially shunned childhood background as the others states, “Having a sister who was kidnapped and surviving tremendous other childhood trauma as a welfare baby, forced me to be my only real friend.  I did not have real-life friends, I had my mind and in my mind, I could create, do or manifest anything.  The ability to self-soothe gave me an ability to see how things worked and understand cause and effect”. He goes on to state, “With so much childhood physical and mental abuse one’s mind becomes sharply Intune with being able to see the future and predict where the next threat is going to come from.  I turned that tool for staying alive into a tremendous tool for navigating life and creating the next big thing”.

All the subjects of this article had something to overcome as a child which led them to become what they are today.  Could these childhood indicators shed light on who might be the world’s next Nikola Tesla? Should parents find more ways to introduce their children to the lives of technology and patent innovators over sports stars?  What can be learned from the childhood lives of Dorsey, Musk, Pulitzer, Page, Brin, Zuckerberg and Gates?


Speech impediment (Dorsey), hearing disorders (Musk – his parents thought he was deaf), Color Blindness (Gates), crushing poverty and government housing (Pulitzer) and a host of other childhood difficulties seem to of have sharpened some skills of our subjects.  Changed the way they view and interact in life. 

Granted no one wants to willingly inflict abuse or damage on any child, but in the lives of the fractured, the bullied, the misfits is there hope for a brighter future?

Researching the childhood stories of these individuals, not only showed childhood difficulties as a commonality; but we discovered a few other traits which seem to lend themselves to raising a child who goes on to impact the business and economics of the future.  They are voracious reading, idols or heroes who are not celebrities, and; constantly dreaming about the “what if” in life, combined with a never-ending stream of questions.  A great example of a common idol of these innovators is Croatian inventor Nikola Tesla.  One of Page’s childhood heroes was the eccentric and brilliant Tesla. Tesla’s work laid the ground for everything from lasers to radios, fluorescent lightbulbs to remote controls. He pioneered electrical engineering and developed the alternating current system of electrical distribution.

As the Guardian’s Carol Sanford wrote in 2014, Tesla’s story caused the adolescent Page to dream of making important technological advances. But he also knew it was a cautionary tale, because Tesla died in poverty, the quintessential “mad scientist.” Page deduced that Tesla died penniless because he lost control of his inventions, and it dawned on him that if he wanted to retain control of his own products and inventions, he would someday need to start his own company.


Elon Musk in the popular press is possibly considered the most visionary and innovative of them all.  A great press agent of course, but more logically linked to his lifelong habit of living inside his head.  Musk’s mother Maye revealed “He goes into his brain and then you just see he is in another world. He still does that. Now I just leave him be because I know he is designing a new rocket or something”.  

Could we have stumbled upon the formula for transforming the odd, abused or isolated weird child into the innovators of the future?  It does seem like the foundation of the formula is a combination of voracious reading, idols or heroes who are not celebrities, constantly dreaming about the “what if” in life, enhanced with the turbo boosting of “question everything, escape into your mind, then question everything again and the solutions will come to you!”  


The bullied, autodidact, socially shunned dreamers and misfits of childhood can evolve into the people who brought the world such things as PayPal (Musk) which broke open the eCommerce future, and the ones who made all of our computers operate easily and intuitively (Gates) or the one who allowed you to connect the physical world to the virtual world and make your camera on your mobile device look at an image, product or barcode and instantly zoom to the correct internet page for it (Jovan Hutton Pulitzer). Thanks to one of these individuals, we can all message not only our loved ones but use our mobile to talk to the world with Twitter (Dorsey) and you already know what Google does (Sergey/Brin) and how many times today did you check your Facebook (Zuckerberg)?  

These loner children, who were sometimes as children were lost in the mix of society have come out okay.  Let’s look at the numbers: Musk (PayPal) has 305 million users, Dorsey (Twitter) has 262 million users, Gates (Microsoft) has 1.2 billion users, Google (Sergey/Brin) has 2 billion users, Facebook (Zuckerberg) has 2.5 billion users and Jovan Hutton Pulitzer’s Scan Commerce & Scan Connect patents are licensed to virtually all 11 billion mobile devices manufactured and in operation to date.  


Our cadre of challenged children featured in this article all grew up to have a tremendous impact on the business and economy of the world. If one looks into the deep data behind their innovations (commonly discovered by studying their patents) one can see a final trend in proving the societal impact of these individuals.  For every patent filed in the world, and there have been over 10,788,000 of them, the math shows that only 1.68% of all patents make money. That path to money is significantly determined by what the industry calls “forward citations”.  These bullied odd-balls found the path to both innovation and profitability by spending time exploring the deep recesses of their minds as children.

Look at the numbers for yourself and you’ll find that Musk has an amazing 987% (nine hundred eighty-seven percent) achievement over the norm in forward citations and Jovan Hutton Pulitzer has an astounding 4790%. A jaw-dropping four thousand seven hundred ninety percent forward citation rate over the industry average. 

These children who learned to “be in their heads” and had to “protect themselves against the world” and were mostly considered misfits used that time in their heads to envision the future.   They all saw the future in their minds and decided with enthusiasm, focus, and discipline to make what they all saw in their head become reality. 

Not a horrible ending story for a bunch of bullied, autodidact, socially shunned dreamers and misfits.

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