Drive, adaptability, and a willingness to take chances…these are some of the things that struck me from my last post about self-employment. As it turns out, these are also considered some of the characteristics of genius.
Of course, one of the first people I think of when the word ‘genius’ comes up is Einstein, however it looks like I will have to save Albert for another time. After a quick google search I found that he doesn’t even appear as one of the top 10 geniuses in Listverse. So what makes a genius?
In many ways we can suggest that this is down to a certain degree of creative thinking and not much to do with the size of ones IQ. For example, we can be far more ‘creative’ than we are ‘intelligent’ and vice versa. Intelligence is not the same as creativity.
Let’s think about how we might solve a problem. Typically, this is done on the basis of similar experiences we’ve had in the past. In this sense, we infer how things will turn out, selecting the most promising approach based on how we might have solved a similar problem in the past. We ‘learn from experience’ – a term I find amusing as I imagine us all with lab coats and bunson burners, systematically forming and testing hypotheses to help plan and predict our all too rational future.
But let’s think about this for a second. Does this really lead to acquiring original and novel ideas? Can our past experiences really guarantee how things will be in the future? I would say no, hypotheses cannot be guaranteed to be correct, for even empirical evidence may later turn out to be wrong. This gets us into a whole other problem – induction. For now, let’s get back to the geniuses.
I would propose that a common feature of genius behaviour is the ability to find a new perspective; one that no one else has taken. This contradicts our example of how we approach problem-solving. Looking at and re-structuring problems by utilising multiple perspectives requires us to abandon the approach that stems from past experience and prepare ourselves for chance occurrences. When we do this, we are not only solving existing problems, but identifying new ones along the way.
One aspect of thinking that I would identify as helping us achieve these multiple perspectives is the ability to think metaphorically. Not only that, but to visualise our thinking in ways that help us make sense of abstract concepts. Drawings, maps and diagrams together with a mixture of the more traditionally recognised verbal and mathematical approaches to problem-solving give us the flexibility to present and display information in different ways and link abstract principles with everyday occurrences.
Like playful children, the figures we identify as genius – the Galileos, Einsteins and da Vincis of this world – constantly allowed images, ideas and thoughts to randomly combine and recombine until the ‘accidental’ discovery arises. A mixture of talent and technique they are geniuses because they know not ‘what’ to think but ‘how’ to think.