Finding Genius

Finding Genius

We need genius in our workplace. This doesn’t mean we need to begin administering IQ tests as part of our job application process. It means that we need to create an environment where true genius can expose itself; and most workplaces, most teams, have genius on board that they are unable to recognize because the environment is not conducive for such an open and exploring mind.


Arthur Schopenhauer, an 18th century German philosopher, is not someone who typically shows up when you Google famous thinkers - but he is well known for this wonderful quote: “talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”


We typically think of genius as someone with an amazingly high IQ; someone who scores 1600 on their SAT’s; but most psychologists will argue that true genius is not necessarily about measured intelligence, it’s more about how we think. A genius tends to know how to think instead of what to think.


Typically, we think reproductively, that is on the basis of similar problems encountered in the past. When confronted with problems, we fixate on something in our past that has worked before. We ask, "What have I been taught in life, education or work on how to solve the problem?" Then we analytically select the most promising approach based on past experiences, excluding all other approaches, and work within a clearly defined direction towards the solution of the problem. Because of the soundness of the steps based on past experiences, we become arrogantly certain of the correctness of our conclusion.


In contrast, geniuses think productively, not reproductively. When confronted with a problem, they ask "How many different ways can I look at it?", "How can I rethink the way I see it?", and "How many different ways can I solve it?" instead of "What have I been taught by someone else on how to solve this?" They tend to come up with many different responses, some of which are unconventional and possibly unique.


You consider the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches. It is the willingness to explore all approaches that is important, even after one has found a promising one.


Einstein was once asked what the difference was between himself and the average person. He said that if you asked the average person to find a needle in the haystack, the person would stop when he or she found a needle. He, on the other hand, would tear through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles.


If we want to study genius, then we really need to look no further than our children. Designer Tim Brown, CEO of the "innovation and design" firm IDEO travels around the country talking about the powerful relationship between creative thinking and play - making the case that children embody the true spirit of genius; and the more we can re-learn to think like they do, the more we will see innovative and creative solutions emerging from the workplace.


The advantage children have is they are not self-conscious. They are not afraid to share ideas because they may think they are silly or irrelevant. They really don’t care what you think about what they think. They simply share their thoughts. It’s beautiful, and it’s perfect... and quite often, it’s genius. For at a very rudimentary level, that’s what defines genius. As adults, it’s our self-consciousness - our need to have our ideas be accepted - that keeps us from tapping into our own genius. We don’t like to be rejected; we like to be taken seriously; and if we share something that may seem too out-of-bounds, too outside the norm, we risk feeling ostracized, and sadly we all lose the benefit of potential genius.


Most meeting environments are inadvertently setup to discourage genius. Quite often meetings need to happen within a very specific timeframe; they need to move briskly; it’s less about exchanging ideas, and more about disseminating information. If we want our workplace, our retail operation, or our department to truly flourish, then we need to encourage genius... and it’s there... it just may not yet be comfortable to shine. And how do we make it comfortable? Create a fun, playful, safe environment for self-expression. Make it incredibly clear that you aren’t just looking for confirmation on your own thinking. You want to be challenged. You want to see a “little crazy”, if you will.


When Steve Jobs believed that computers weren’t just for the workplace, and where they would really find success is in the home, everyone thought he was nuts. Democracy itself was considered ludicrous at first blush... thank you very much Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Franklin, and friends. We need innovation, and we need to encourage it. As our philosopher friend, Arthur Schopenhauer so eloquently wrote - “all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.


More genius please.