Genius worship is the inevitable sign of an uncreative age.
– Clive Bell
Most of us, myself included, have at one time or another put a person we’ve admired up on a pedestal and pronounced them to be a “genius”.
We’ve thought that they possess this awesome gift that only a chosen few are granted.
Is this really healthy?
Well, one way of looking at it suggests that it takes the pressure off of us to “blame” another persons ability and success on something esoteric. Simply because looking for the answer would probably lead us away from doing something that’s tangible.
It also comes with the danger that we don’t pursue something we want simply because we aren’t a “genius” at it. This is not helpful in the least.
That’s why I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk about the “elusive creative genius”.
In her talk she explains the origins of the word “genius”. It’s from the late 14th century and at the time meant “tutelary or moral spirit who guides and governs an individual through life”. It was first used to describe a persons “natural intelligence or talent” in the 1640’s.
I would argue that it’s healthier for us to make a clear distinction that none of us are geniuses, they merely visit us from time to time.
I’ll give you an example.
When I was in school I would pop up my hand and give the answer to a problem pretty darn quickly. Whenever I did the other kids would look at me and at times uttered the words: “Whoa, you must be a genius!”.
I loved the attention and felt proud. But it came with a negative side effect, besides being picked on for being a nerd. People would expect me to constantly live up to the “genius” label.
I started thinking that I was. Everytime I got it wrong it was like I was letting myself and others down for failing to live up to that standard. “I should know this. I’m a genius aren’t I?”.
Later I figured out that I’d learned two skills that helped me be so fast.
1) Read other people and social cues so I had a pretty good guess of what they wanted to know before they even had the chance to ask. This gave me a head start to solving the problem.
2) Make connections between several seemingly unrelated events/objects/questions. Somehow I’d developed my ability to recognize patterns.
How, when and where I picked them up, I don’t know. My best guess is that my interests coupled with a lot of luck and my upbringing gave me opportunity to hone those particular skills.
I’m not saying that genes don’t count here but I don’t think they contributed as much as the other factors.
Did you ever get labeled as being a “genius” at something? How did it affect you? Do you disagree with mine or Elizabeth’s views?
Let me know in the comments section or send me a tweet.
Have a fantastic & creative day!