Creative genius is a controversial idea.
In the past decade or so ideas about all sorts of genius are moving away from exceptional giftedness ( you’re specially able or you’re not, a genetic lottery ticket) and toward practice-makes-brilliance (many thousands of hours of focused, deliberate practice bring mastery and exceptional performance).
While studying Einstein’s life and work, I was struck by the circumstance of ordinary people carried away by exceptional passion. Passion or fascination for something leads naturally to exceptional numbers of hours thinking about and working with the object of passion.
I no longer view genius as something delivered to a few of us, outside our control, a matter of luck or curse depending on how it works out for us individually. I do think we have some inherent proclivities which set us apart from each other, and which probably come to us from a nature-nurture combination. I don’t think these proclivities are the whole picture in genius, though, but more likely a sort of direction finder or nudge toward a particular sort of fascination and type of effort.
Now I believe most genius comes largely from interest and choice, and to some extent opportunity, rather than relying solely on mysterious quirks of fortunate ability.
Whatever we believe about genius has an impact on what we attempt and what we achieve. It’s old news that school teachers who assume a particular set of students will excel find that they actually tend to do just that, and vice versa.
Just as a mental exercise, believe for now that you are capable of creative genius.
It doesn’t matter if you already own this belief or if it’s a what-if exercise. Also doesn’t matter if you believe in the genetic lottery theory, the divine gift theory, or the pay-attention-and-practice theory.
Just assume for now you’re capable of creative genius. It’s yours.
Now, what would you like to create with that creative genius?
Answer these questions quickly and without arguing with yourself about them.
You may need to get over yourself for the moment, ignoring your fears about your abilities, resources, feasibility, uncertainties, and what others will expect and accept from you.
It’s ok if your answers are inconsistent among the five questions. This is an exploration, not an admissions exam.
It’s especially ok if you don’t know the answers. Most likely your answers to most or all of the questions will be I don’t know!
Fine. It’s true. It also doesn’t matter. Say I don’t know! , then write down an answer, whatever strange or unlikely thing comes to mind. We won’t hold you to any of it.
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1. You’re receiving an award for your remarkable creative contributions.
What is the reward? If it doesn’t exist, make it up. Be creative, for heavens sake. Just for now you’re a creative genius.
2. Your creative work is the cover story in a media outlet you respect.
What’s the traditional or digital newspaper, magazine, trade journal, tv show, company newsletter, YouTube channel, TED talk venue, or what have you? (Again, make it up if you need to.)
What’s the headline or topic title?
3. You’re being photographed with your work (a book, a painting, a design, a music score, a photo-journalistic story) or some representation of it (a logo for your entrepreneurial venture, a model representing your engineering feat).
Describe the work you’re showing, or at least something about what it’s about (a memoir, a screenplay, a cartoon strip, leadership in a space exploration mission, a new technology that solves a particular environmental problem, a methodology for teaching music to very young children, a diplomatic negotiation that expands peace efforts in a certain region of the world, a new approach to animal training, an interior design project that expresses beauty and function according to your unique sense of style. What?).
4. Imagine yourself at work on some creative project that fascinates or compels you. It can be after your work has achieved fame or fortune (see the first three questions), or long before it is completed.
Describe the environment where you’re working, as well as the materials and possibly the people you’re working with.
You may be in an urban loft office space with a small team of enterprising architectural engineers; in your easy chair with a sketch pad; on a solitary walk in the woods thinking thoughts of poetry, philosophy, or quantum craziness; in a dance studio with a company of talented modern dancers, and you’re the visionary; in a war zone with a camera; in a neo-corporate warren of cubicles where sandled feet, pets brought to work and amazing coffee define a work home to those of you who are inventing the next generation of computing platforms; in a healthcare environment where you are comforting sick kids or bringing them hope….you get the idea. Where are you?
If you don’t easily see yourself in a particular working environment and context, just make up one where you might like to find yourself creatively playing one day.
5. Now describe how you felt while imagining actually doing and sharing this work or these projects (open, excited, energized, scared, comfortable, right, important, humbled, curious, dazzled, buzzed, challenged, confused, surprised, belonging, playful, what?)
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What did you notice about what your personal creative genius might like to play with? What were some of the themes in the type of work, the products and contributions, the environments that you imagined?
Are you already playing in or toward any of these creative sandboxes?
If you’re already spending time in your sandbox, have you yet had the courage to work on the thing that really calls upon your particular genius?
If not, will you get started today?
What will you do with your own creative genius?
What do you have that we’re waiting for?