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Creativity Comments by Winston J. Brill, Ph.D.

05/02 Creativity Comment

Afraid of the Genius?

Most of us, at one time or another, have called someone a “genius.”  The connotation is usually quite positive.  Wouldn’t you like someone to call you a genius?   I believe that many people, however, are afraid to manage the genius.  The genius may question everything, may provide better answers than the manager, or may receive too much credit.  Maybe the genius is just too difficult to control.

But, what is a genius?  The dictionary doesn’t help as it has several conflicting definitions.

Would you call Vincent van Gogh a genius?  He was a terrible learner, having spent years working in first-class art galleries before he began to seriously take up painting.  With all that gallery experience, he seemed to have no clue as to how to sell his work, even with a brother who was an art dealer.  By the way, van Gogh wasn’t painting only for self-satisfaction; he desperately wanted to make a living from his art.  In fact, he began focusing on portraits, hoping that someone would want to pay for a likeness painted by van Gogh.  But no takers--and he wasn’t charging a lot.  If you saw his best works during the time he painted them, you would not (neither did any art dealer) pay particular attention to them.  Was van Gogh a genius?  Or, perhaps, did he become a genius only years after his death, when his works became popular?

Decades ago, I went to college with a guy who read--and remembered--just about everything.  He was a math major, but knew the name of every blood vessel, muscle, etc. from leisure reading of Gray’s Anatomy.  He was very knowledgeable about art, sports, science, literature, etc., etc.  Classmates called him, “Encylopedia,” as he was the most easily accessible source of information (this was prior to the web).  He quit college in his junior year and I haven’t heard anything about him since.  If he’s an average employee in some software company, would you call him a genius?  If he is having a difficult time securing a decent job, would you call him a genius?  If he’s leading an extremely successful group, would you call him a genius?

Was Pablo Picasso a genius?  Even if he regularly, and admittedly, “stole” ideas from other people?

Are most Nobel Prize winners geniuses?

Does the genius have some special type of thinking process that we, ordinary folks, are unable to acquire?  To be designated, “genius,” do we have to achieve one or more very significant goals?  Is merely a very high Intelligence Quotient the indicator of a genius?  Does the genius have to exhibit quirky traits?

However you define genius, shouldn’t you go out of your way to take advantage of that person’s skill?  Or should you try to keep the genius out of your group? 

Perhaps you shouldn’t be afraid of the genius, as there are few commonalities—other than many potential benefits—from that status.  

©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.