The Myth of Genius - and where ideas come from

The Myth of Genius - and where ideas come from

Isabel Evans gave a wonderful Keynote talk at EuroSTAR about the Myth of Genius.

In a nutshell, it was about the idea/myth that the “genius” label is typically only applied to individuals and in reality, these individuals rarely worked alone.

Sure, some may work alone, but when we peel back the layers we realise they often worked in teams (but stole, or were awarded, the limelight), stole/borrowed/ripped off other people’s work or had people working in the background helping them unleash this “genius”.

Isabel’s idea was around team work and how the genius is actually the team working together – something I whole-heartedly agree with.

A disclaimer – I spoke with Isabel before the talk to bounce some ideas around – and she gracefully referenced me a few times too! Thank you. I was especially pleased to appear on a slide with Seth Godin, as someone worth looking up for more information!

I wanted to share a few thoughts about genius – as it pertains to creativity.

Genius, Ideas and Creativity

If we look at the word “genius” from an etemological standpoint, it means “guided by spirit” or a “deity” looking over us, or “generative power”. In a nutshell it’s about something outside of ourselves guiding us. You’ve heard creative people talk about how an idea came to them from above, or from the spirits, or just appeared.

You’ve heard people talk about how a genius seems to have an abundant set of ideas or are tuned into some other world, a world where ideas flow to them easily.

And this is why we call people a genius – as though they have something we don’t. As though they are special, chosen, guided, looked after by some spirit.

But when we dig a little deeper, especially from a creativity perspective, we see that it’s likely nothing to do with spirits, and more to do with being open to what’s around us, learning to notice and piecing together seemingly disconnected ideas.

Creativity is about bringing something to life that didn’t exist.

If you’ve read my 30 day guide to creativity, you’ll see that theme come through.

Link here to the free PDF Guide.

Having ideas is great, but ideas aren’t worth anything. You must bring these ideas to life through creativity for them to be valuable. And this is the hard part.

Many people have ideas (are we all therefore connected to spirits?) but many people lack the drive, or commitment, or inclination to do something with these ideas. Having lots of ideas is important, but probably more importantly, is creating these many ideas – churning out the bad and the good.

It’s hard to create – and it often takes a team of people to make it happen. Sometimes the team get the credit, sometimes it’s the genius front-person.

And this is where part of Isabel’s talk focused – on the fact that behind the “genius” is often a team.

But back to creativity and where ideas come from.

Rick Rubin, legendary music producer, said something along the lines of creativity not being about talent, nor a birthright, but actually something we can all tune into. It’s about being open to possibility and wonder. (And magic…)

Legendary author Steven Pressfield referred to creativity in a similar way – as a series of ideas floating around in the ether, waiting for someone to pluck down the idea and do something with it.

It may explain why breakthroughs and inventions often happen around the same time.

The ideas, technology, learnings, information, needs, problems and the like, are rippling around waiting for someone to pull it all together to create something new from it. — Waiting for someone to notice. Waiting for someone to pull together ideas from their widened awareness.

Creativity is about creating something new – something that didn’t exist before. And the ideas that start this creative process are indeed flying around (and maybe why the label of genius is now applied to people who seemingly have a connection to the spirits), waiting for someone to grab them and do something with them.

And to see these ideas we need to be open minded, alert, curious, intrigued, quiet, receptive, ready to notice.

And once we have grabbed the idea that was floating around, the rest is hard work and grit to bring it to life.

I love the idea of a genius being someone who is guided by spirits but the deeper reality is likely that they simply noticed, observed, widened their awareness and combined together a seemingly separate set of inputs to create something new.

At EuroSTAR, I presented my 10 behaviours of effective employees. One of the behaviours is about widening your awareness so you can see these seemingly separate pieces of information, and the other behaviour being about being open-minded.

When you have the two working together, you have the chance to see the ideas floating in the ether (or on the internet, or in books, or around you at work) and then to be curious about what they may mean with an open mind. And when you develop this practice enough, you can be open to the gazzilion idea that you see – and then create that which you’ve seen in your mind.

I think this is why good teams create and innovate. People bring ideas and share them openly. They notice what is happening around them. They read widely. They observe. They talk and communicate. They respect other people’s ideas. Of course, it helps if the team is diverse in many ways, one of such being intelligence. And it helps if the team are given the space to ideate.

And if you get it right at work, these people will apply their own heat to the situation in the form of drive, pressure and commitment – and something will be created because of it. Genius in action.

Rick Rubin mentioned how he slowed his life down and took time to observe what was going on around him. By doing so, he noticed things he’d never seen before, even in his own neighbourhood.

This is key. Slowing down, observing, noticing and piecing things together. If only there was more space, time, energy and attention in most businesses for this activity…..just imagine how many more geniuses there would be.

Thank you Isabel for a wonderful talk. And it re-enforced my other view about genius and noticing – in that, the art of noticing is also the art of leadership.