On having geniuses

head-would-explodeYou might’ve heard me go on at some point about how people have geniuses, and that it’s not really appropriate to call people geniuses.  Allow me to elaborate.

Let’s start with breaking down the pieces of what defines what we call “genius”.  Genius is when someone does something exceedingly well with a creative flair, allowing something to be made or thought or written that has never been seen before and does so in a way that enriches others.  (This is my personal simplified version of the definition, your concept might vary a little.)

So, intelligence, creativity, and vision.  Those are the three pieces that put someone in a “genius” category.

The problem is that most people see the word “genius” as applying to all of a person.  A person who IS a genius is supposed to be creative and intelligent and visionary, all at once, about all things.

That’s an awful lot of pressure.

Most people who are labeled as geniuses really only excel at a few areas.  Expecting the planet’s leading physicist to also be able to be brilliant in the kitchen and amazing at personal relationships and able to design and build a house and write the novel of the centuries and knit a sweater and forge metal from scratch and build a computer processor… not really plausible, but all of these things have had “geniuses” doing them.  They weren’t all the same genius.

There’s another level to this word, “genius”.  We think of it as a magical talent that just kind of happens: the genius disappears into a lab or office, and then amazing things are created.  The whole process is very mysterious, not understood readily because not everyone gets to be “a genius”, and geniuses are often not susceptible to questioning.

“Genius” is currently culturally used as a title, and it comes with so much implied responsibility that it’s far more common for people to feel resentful and even a little guilty for not living up to the expectation than to embrace it.  Calling someone A genius can actually get in the way of their ultimate potential being achieved.

Now, if we pull that title and replace it with “human who HAS geniuses”, then we see a completely different emotional landscape.

When I teach my classes, I draw a model where the “you” person is separate from “mind” (intelligence, reason, rational thinking) and also separate from “heart” (emotion, feeling, creativity).  Neither of these things should rule you, they are separate things that can only advise you.  Imagine now also that the things you do really, really well – the talents and vision that you have – are also separate things.

Imagine that each of those talents that give people are like puppies.  They need to be nourished and taught, coddled, disciplined, trained.  Sometimes they are off doing their own thing, and sometimes they demand your attention.

Some people have a whole pack of puppies, some have just a few.  If you nurture a large pack, you might be challenged to find time for all of them, or maybe you’ll be tempted to try to nurture them all in the same way.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but you won’t get the same high level results all the time as you would if you focus only on only one or two.

Developing a genius takes work, study, and practice.  You have to be able to have that seed, of course, of talent or vision, but when you realize that even the most brilliant mind had to take classes and do their homework and make tons of mistakes before they created their huge big success, this gives you permission to look at what you think your talents are maybe expand the definitions a little.

So, let’s say you have a special talent for spatial volume – you can easily eyeball the total volume of any given space with a reasonable amount of accuracy.  This means that you know how many bags of what size you can pack in the trunk of a car, or how many cups of soup are going to fit in a saving container.  You experiment by measuring to see how close you came to being correct.  You can build on that with linear distance, even though you aren’t naturally good at that.

This can be applied to a great number of things.  You might not always be able to develop a non-natural talent with the same ease as a natural one, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t develop them at all.

In my opinion, if anyone does have the right to be called “A genius”, it would be the person who seeks out those non-natural talents and nurtures them in addition to their natural ones.  The process is the same – start with an idea, develop, grow, learn, make something amazing.

See how many geniuses you can have, and then see if you can harness them all together for a genius-sled team.  Have an Iditarod of brains.

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