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IQ is the gold standard of genius. Or is it really?
IQ is the gold standard of genius. SAT is the gateway to success. Anything less than Harvard, Yale or Princeton is inferior. But is it really?
Perhaps, we should take a step back and ask whether our over-reliance on the IQ metrics, standardized tests and our fixation on elite level education are nurturing the kind of citizens we want to lead and live with. The number of false negative geniuses, including Beethoven, Darwin, Edison, Picasso, Disney, Jobs and all the rest – suggests that genius is much more than IQ and that smart can mean many things.
The challenge is to find a testing metric that discovers the hidden meaning of genius. As Einstein famously said,
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll live its whole life believing it’s stupid.”
What’s a woman’s greatest enemy? It’s not the genius factor.
A woman’s greatest enemy is often a lack of time to herself. What might this mean for the employers and spouses of women today? For one thing, they should provide equal space, pay and perhaps most importantly, time.
Understand that women have the same hidden habits of genius as their men counterparts and perhaps even an extra dose of resilience. Think about the implications of the way you talk to your daughters about their homework versus the way you talk to your sons. Understand the gender bias, because more often than not, the cause lies in culture, not genetic gifts.
The problem with prodigy
The problem with the prodigy bubble is that it’s filled with unmitigated positive reinforcements, adherence to strict rules and tolerance for nothing but perfection. If you or your child have the perfect genius as your goal, take a step back and relax. Maybe a trophy for all approach isn’t realistic.
Instead, set a program of global learning instead of narrow specialization. Most important, learn from the mentors and be willing to adjust your goals as you go. Not to be forgotten by the parents is the importance of socialization as a way of building empathy and the capacity for leadership. Prodigies come in a few forms. Geniuses come in many. Now would be the time to break the habit of coupling prodigy with genius. Most geniuses never were prodigies, and most prodigies never become geniuses.
Adulthood, and the decline of creative minds
Walt Disney said, “Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.”
But why does the imaginative capacity of humans shrink as we grow from childhood to adulthood? Perhaps the best explanation is as we grow up, we become responsible for our own survival, in real terms, putting food on the table. Like humans, many animals display playful flexibility during childhood but then follow rigidly programmed patterns as adults. Neoteny saves us. (Neoteny is a term coined by evolutionary biologists to explain the human capacity to perpetuate juvenile characteristics such as curiosity, play and imagination into adult life.)
The least helpful thing we can say to our children is to ‘Grow Up!’ Children’s bedtime stories, fairy tales with genies and godmothers, play toys and puppets, tree forts and doll houses, recess and imaginary friends all allow us to retain or recapture our creative minds. As Charles Baudelaire put it,
“Genius is only childhood recovered at will.”
Rediscovering a lust for creativity
How might we, non-geniuses, cultivate a lust for learning beyond the obvious acts of reading and attending classrooms? Here are some everyday suggestions:
- Be open to new and unfamiliar experiences. Push yourself to do something that scares you. Let yourself get lost in the wonders of nature or a new city.
- Be fearless. Instead of calling for Uber, take public transportation. Learn about the geography, history and local culture that you’ve never had.
- Ask questions. When you stand in the presenter mode, use the Socratic method. When you’re in the role of student or employee, don’t be afraid to reveal what you don’t know. Ask!
- Once you ask, listen to understand. You’ll always learn something.
Suggestion #1 Don’t have fun or failure. Have both.
Statistics show children and college students are becoming more anxious, fearful and risk averse, even though your city streets are becoming safer. One study in 2019 put a rat into a maze, give it an eclectic shock along one path and eventually the rat will find a safe path through the maze, and always adhere to it. It’ll explore no other options and will never learn to take new risks.
Fortunately, a few educators and parents are collectively pushing back with ‘dangerous playgrounds that encourage creativity and risk the ‘free-range parenting movement. Want to raise a bold, brilliant and original thinker? Allow your children to explore alone, take risks and experience failure. There’s no way around it. Let them have fun, fail and recover. Allow them to break rules once in a while. It’s more work, worry and pain for parents but the outcome will be better for both. As Steve Jobs once wondered,
“Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?”
Suggestion #2 Look for contradictions.
Successful geniuses always exploit the contradictions of life. The more he or she looks for contradictions, the greater his or her potential for genius. Great artists, pets, musicians and comedians embed oppositional forces in their performance for more dramatic and sometimes comic effect. Brilliant scientists do not always go in search of contradictions but they’re comfortable when they find them. Transformative entrepreneurs look for contrarian solutions. Bezos worked backward from a solution to a problem. King used oxymoronic words and vigorous inaction to change the public opinion about race in the US.
We can all apply contradictions in life.
- After telling a child a bedtime story, reverse the process and have the child tell you one. Let him tap into his visionary thinking.
- Before launching a new company, hold a premortem and work backwards to see why the business might fail.
- To write a better report or presentation, begin with an end in mind and look over the material. To reduce personal bias, write a list of pros and cons. Take time and question your existing beliefs.
- To test the validity of your position, play a devil’s advocate. Arguing with your spouse or partner can be a good thing. It provides room for passionate restraint.
- To be witty in conversation, think of an opposite rejoiner. While thinking opposite may go unobserved, the improved outcomes will be obvious.
Suggestion #3 Find the zone.
Call it a lighthouse or a safe house, all great minds have a space in which they get into the zone. The mystery writer Agatha Christie was often beset by social and professional interruptions, yet, she recalled, “Once I could get away, however, shut the door and get people not to interrupt me, then I was able to go full speed ahead, completely lost in what I was doing.”
Follow Christie’s lead but go one step further. Don’t interrupt yourself with distracting web searches, email or social media. Give yourself confidence and encouragement by placing marks of your accomplishments (such as awards, diplomas) in the view and the portraits of your heroes and heroines. The creative process can sometimes be daunting and often the great work seems suddenly nothing of value. Simple tricks like these can help you out, and save you from giving up.
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