If someone asked you, "Who do you think of when you think of a genius?" you could probably answer without too much thinking involved: Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Marilyn vos Savant, Leonard da Vinci, Marie Curie, and so many other innovators in their fields. But what if someone asked you, "Where do you think of when you think of a genius?" Or, "What makes a genius a genius?" These questions aren't quite as simple, but reveal a lot more about the nature of a genius than just name-dropping Einstein.
In his new book The Geography of Genius , Eric Weiner sets out on a trip around the world to visit cities famed for their contributions to art, science, and philosophy: Athens, Hangzhou, Florence, Edinburgh, Calcutta, Vienna, and Silicon Valley. Weiner's goal is to figure out what these places have in common in the hopes of discovering the secret formula required to create a society of geniuses.
Spoiler alert: There's nothing in the water that makes a society spawn a bunch of brilliant people. Climate and location have pretty much nothing to do with creating a genius. What Weiner did find, however, that certain characteristics defined each city and its inhabitants, and he thinks it's way more likely that geniuses have traits, rather than hometowns, in common. I'm willing to bet you all have a little genius in you, especially if you exhibit any of the traits below.
1. Geniuses Struggle With Money And ... Life
OK, so technically no one lives in a perfect world, but Weiner makes the note that "Paradise in antithetical to genius. Paradise makes no demands, and creative genius takes root through meeting demands in new and imaginative ways." Basically, many of the cultures Weiner studied were at their top genius potential when they faced some type of struggle (disease, dangerous neighbors, etc.). The next time you think about how much easier life would be if you had the perfect job or a gorgeous new apartment, just remember that Weiner said "wealthy people and places often stagnate."
2. Geniuses Produce A Lot Of Non-Genius-Quality Work
When we think about some of the world's most famous geniuses, we tend to think of their masterpieces: Beethoven's fifth symphony or Einstein's theory of relativity. Because we focus so much on their accomplishments, we start to forget that not everyone of their ideas was a home run. But in order to come up with these brilliant ideas, they first had to go through a lot of ideas that didn't quite pan out. As Weiner points out, "Edison held 1,093 patents, most for completely worthless inventions. Of Picasso's twenty thousand works, most were far from masterpieces." So keep writing terrible poetry, or inventing useless gadgets: their just getting you ready for your masterpiece.
3. Geniuses Take A Lot Of Risks
Did you know when Michelangelo was hired to paint the Sistine Chapel, Pope Julius II (the guy who hired him) was taking a big gamble? Michelangelo was a respected sculptor, but he wasn't known for being much of a painter. Everyone just assumed he would figure it out, and he did. According to Weiner, "Risk and creative genius are inseparable." Works of genius can't come from complacency. Geniuses are constantly taking risks to improve themselves and their crafts, instead of just sticking to what they're good at.
4. Geniuses Are A Scrappy Bunch
Maybe it's because I consider myself a scrappy individual, but this trait was my favorite to learn. While in Scotland, a country he considers to be filled with scrappy people, Weiner thought about the scrappy tendencies of some of the most brilliant civilizations throughout history. Whether it was Athens bouncing back from being attacked by the Persians or exiled geniuses going on to create amazing works of art and philosophy far from home, geniuses seem to be inherently scrappy. "Scrappy people are resourceful, determined, creative," Weiner decided. "Scrappy is good."
5. Geniuses Need A Little Bit Of Chaos In Their Lives
The stereotype of the disheveled, messy genius exists for a reason. Weiner looks at a study performed by the neurologist Walter Freeman, who examined how the brain reacted when presented new information (in this study, a new smell). When the test subject, a rabbit, encountered a new smell, it entered a chaotic state in order to process this new information. "Far from being an impediment to creativity ... chaos is an essential ingredient," Weiner summarizes. "The creative person doesn't view chaos as an abyss but, rather, as a mother lode of information." Of course, too much chaos can be as bad for creativity as too much order, but if you hit that sweet spot between the two, get ready to see some brilliance occur.
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