“I seem to be a verb,” he once said. Even more than 30 years after his passing, when the magnificent machine that was Buckminster Fuller’s mind stopped minting ideas and inventions at a prodigious rate, there's still a sense that he is always in motion, moving too fast for the rest of us. You can call Richard Buckminster Fuller many things: a prophet of environmentalism and the counter-culture, decades ahead of the fringe; a Doc Brown of design thinking, whose buoyant optimism held firm to the idea humanity can innovate out of its problems; or simply a self-made genius. But most just called the inspirational thinker “Bucky.”
Fuller’s formative years offer a glimpse of the type of thinker he would become; nonconformist (he was expelled from Harvard twice) and intuitive (he created a winch to rescue downed planes while in the Navy, and developed a new method to build reinforced concrete housing with his father-in-law). But his beliefs were truly forged during the Lake Michigan incident. Jobless at 32 with a family to support, he paced around the Chicago lakefront, contemplating suicide. Then, he had an epiphany. You can’t get rid of yourself, you have a responsibility to others—“You belong to the universe.”
Fuller embarked on a long path of philosophizing and designing solutions that would turn him into a global educator and icon. Innovations such as the geodesic dome and the Dymaxion Map followed, as well as the promotion of a worldview that advanced utopian thinking and efficiency. He even preached his beliefs from his gravestone, etched forever with the phrase “call me trimtab,” a reference to a small flap on ship’s rudder that ultimately steers the boat. Bucky saw himself, and others like him, in that little flap; committed, ecstatic, and global thinkers who could, by force of will, change the direction of our spaceship Earth.