[Read] Genius v. Talent via Innovation Diaries

Genius v. Talent

A week or so ago, a colleague of mine sent me this article on genius http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/opinion/01brooks.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 and its content got me thinking about how easy it is to confuse Genius and Talent. Some very clever people try and solve things with science. Personally, I like the unexplained and the maverick. I???ll leave the reader to make their own conclusions from the article but for now this is my reaction???

I don???t see how (as I read) that Tiger Woods can be heralded as a ???genius???. He???s a golfer. A very good one of course and happens to have mastered the game through talent, practice and devotion in a way that few have. Learning a game of golf however is behavioural. So is learning geometry, tying a shoelace and grasping a foreign language. All behaviour is learnt. As my music teacher insisted, practise makes permanent NOT perfect. Hence her reply to a gushing admirer of her lucky talent: ???yes, and the more practice I get, the luckier I become???. What you decide to focus on becomes stronger with repetition. A skilled craftsman can create fabulous art not because of some divine gift but a combination of learned skill and experience. I know through experience that I can teach people to draw (anyone can draw) but I can???t create a genius. I can teach you how to read and play music too, but I can???t create a Mozart.

For me, Genius is something that extends beyond talent and our natural ability to learn and hone a skill. Therefore, the contention that genius is created by focusing on the imperfections and working them out of a system is as evanescent as steam. A Genius is someone the likes of whom has never been seen before (or will again). A Genius ???creates??? things for the first time but the creation of ???new??? isn???t enough. I can???t claim architectural genius to parallel the works of Le Corbusier simply because I built a patio wall in my garden. Genius is the magic that only a few people posses; the stuff of legend. Genius is the diamond we find when we???ve sifted through the tonnes of rock AND no diamond is the same. We all have our own personal favourites and examples to help define the term and the individual. I may cite favorably Mozart (unlike the article), or Gaudi and Lloyd-Wright, maybe Billy Joel (yes, Billy Joel) but my choice are composers, designers and artists. They simply present forms in which genius can manifest. Is sport really a vehicle to demonstrate Genius or is it simply easier to spot talent when the rest of us have to work so hard to strike under par?

Depending on your personal definition of creativity it???s easy for me to understand how Picasso is cited as a Genius because of his artwork with the same strength of conviction that Mr Woods is seen as a Genius because of his sporting talents. The difference though (my closing apostasy) is that Tiger Woods needed years of practice, coaching, focus on the detail and hours of devotion each day. Picasso was born gifted and just needed an introduction to a brush and canvas; that???s all.

All a Genius needs is to wander through his or her own mind and bring forth something unique and special; nothing more. Granted my patio wall is unique and special but a legend in the making it is not. Only a few of us in a lifetime are born with the qualities that make for a Genius and I am happy that I choose to reframe my creative efforts in a healthy perspective.

Andy Reid


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