My friend Ral has often been called a genius (admittedly by herself as much as anyone … but we make allowances given she has been to Harvard).
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, says that genius is greatness that isn’t necessarily effortless, but greatness that is earned. Something that you have accomplished, rather than something that is given to you. (And she’s got a fair bit of pretty compelling empirical evidence to support her point of view.)
Natasha Pincus, author of I’m not a genius and so are you, agrees. She reckons that anyone can be a genius. Anyone with the will to be one.
On the other hand, in her fabulous TED talk on creative genius, Elizabeth Gilbert tells us the ancient Greeks and Romans believed that an artist had a spirit that helped their work, one called a daemon or ‘genius’. In other words genius lives outside of us, and our job is to show up and be there when it visits.
So who is right? Which perspective is the truth?
If you’ve followed my writing for a while, you may recall I’m actually much more interested in what’s useful rather than what’s true.
The idea that genius is earned rather than bestowed helps us to keep going. It doesn’t give us the out that we weren’t born with natural talent so we may as well throw in the towel.
The idea that genius comes from outside of us helps us stay unattached. It helps us manage hubris and expectation. I like the idea that I’m a custodian of some thinking for a period in order to serve humanity, rather than it's mine and I have to protect it and hold it tight.
This whole genius thing is worth thinking and talking about. I think if you are going to call yourself a thought leader, genius has to be the benchmark. Your thinking has to be world class. Genius.