I’ve long wondered what makes geniuses so … ingenious.
How could DaVinci envision his remarkable inventions? What enabled Mozart to compose such magnificent music? Where did Einstein draw his inspiration to develop his theories on relativity?
For that matter, how, oh how, did Bill Watterson cram so much creativity, humor and insight into a comic strip about a hyperactive kid and his toy tiger?
Perhaps the more important question for the rest of us poor schmoes is this: Is there anything we can learn from geniuses to apply to our lives? If we can’t be geniuses, can we at least achieve to some degree their levels of prowess?
If nothing else, I’d like to write a well-turned phrase once in a while.
Craig Wright explores this topic in his book titled “The Hidden Habits of Genius: Beyond Talent, IQ, and Grit—Unlocking the Secrets of Greatness.” A music professor at Yale University, Wright also taught a popular course there on the nature of genius.
So what makes geniuses geniuses? As Wright repeats in his book, there is no answer.
For starters, there’s disagreement over what constitutes a genius. Talent and intelligence are involved, but there’s more to it than that. Wright quotes the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “A person of talent hits a target that no one else can hit; a person of genius hits a target that no one else can see.”
Wright offers his own definition of genius as someone of extraordinary mental powers whose original works or insights significantly change society over time.
As unique as they are, geniuses share some commonalities — what Wright considers their hidden habits. Their work ethic, curiosity and passion. But also their faults as not-so-great human beings.
I was especially interested in what Wright had to write about authors — among them Mary Shelley, Toni Morrison and J.K. Rowling.
Wright cites their imagination. Think of the creature Shelley brings to life in “Frankenstein” or wizarding world Rowling builds for her Harry Potter series.
Then there’s grit. When she was a single mother raising two sons in a small rented home in Queens, Morrison got up early and stayed up late to write.
And then there’s resolve borne of adversity. Rowling believed if she had enjoyed even a modicum of success in another endeavor, she never would have developed the determination to succeed as a writer. Her rock bottom became the solid foundation upon which she built a career as one of the best-selling authors of all time.
I’m no genius. I don’t even play one on TV. But I’d like to believe I’m smart enough to learn from the efforts of others, to take to heart the importance of imagination, grit and determination.
I’m even hopeful that some day perhaps my efforts will prove … ingenious.