The word “genius” perhaps brings to mind a prodigy or mastermind of the past, either in the musical, scientific or mathematical fields – Bach, Einstein, Mozart, Aristotle, Beethoven and Da Vinci, to name a few. There are conflicting ideas, however, on how a genius is developed. John Dryden (English poet, literary critic, translator and playwright) suggested: “Genius must be born and can never be taught”. On the other hand, Simone de Beauvoir (French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist) asserted: “One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius”. Confusing indeed, but maybe both ‘theories’ are inadequate – it is plausible that anyone could demonstrate genius at some point, but genius is not something tangible that can be learned in a conventional sense. Perhaps “genius” is a discovery in the journey of life – a realisation in a profound way that the utilisation of one’s unique creativity may make a huge contribution to a company, concept or community as a whole. In part, it is the ability to ‘join-the-dots’ of the principles that already exist in life (basic laws of nature and humanness) and apply them in new and creative ways to make relevant and meaningful contributions. Someone once said: “Broken glass to a layman is just glass, but to a genius, it is a kaleidoscope of colours and geometric shapes and the use that that glass can be put to, rather than just being thrown away”.
Every human being has innate ability and people, when young, demonstrate high levels of creativity – games, role-plays, building things, reasoning things out, adapting within the framework of social structures, etc. This initial curiosity, unfortunately, is often silenced during the education and socialisation processes and one’s inner creativity regularly gets quashed. The ensuing “damage” restricts a quest for discovery and represses a desire to explore perceived intellectual and assumed skill boundaries. The resulting stasis translates into being “ordinary”.
In recent years, there has been a call in the business world (and indeed in political and social environments) for creative leadership to be able to respond well to fast-paced contexts and the pressure of turbulent times. Leaders should consider using the following tools to accelerate the development and facilitate the application of their creativity to meet these 21st Century challenges:
- Be courageous and believe that you can find creative solutions – courage forms the foundation for innovative attempts. It means a change from the status quo, so resistance can be expected. Doubt and anxiety need to be fought. Courage and fear both result in a pounding heart – the difference is in taking action despite the fear. Albert Einstein suggested: “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid”.
- Redevelop your mind – a spirit of enquiry, asking many questions and voracious reading will speed up your ability to connect-the-dots. Mark Twain noted: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them”. Cultivate a life-long passion for learning.
- Be passionate – creative people find their full expression of their humanness in what they do. They are not primarily motivated by money, but do their best because of the challenge and enjoyment it provides. Research studies have confirmed over and over again that intrinsic motivation breeds creativity, while extrinsic motivational factors such as financial rewards are rather counter-productive to spur truly original ideas. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and one of the most remarkable comeback stories in business, commented on the darkest hours of his career when he was fired from Apple in 1985: “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love”.
- Develop flexibility and tolerance for paradoxes, ambiguity and uncertainty – inflexibility and closed-thinking habits inhibit progress and the probability of being open-minded to new possibilities. The more flexible you are, the more power you have in times of change.
Genius is not the final destination but an expression of the journey. Make sure your journey is one of discovery – your innate creativity applied to offer relevant contributions. Become the star you can be.