Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Nature of Genius & Tesla

I just finished reading Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Centuryby Sean Patrick (got it free for my Kindle)As of today's post, it's still available for free at Amazon. It was an interesting read, especially so given its tie to next month's Sounding Board column in TLT.

Our readers have just finished responding to a survey that asked about the nature of genius (your definition), which genius (living or dead) you'd most like to meet and what you'd ask that person, whether you've met a genius, and if you could magically become a genius, would you like to or not? Respondents to the survey would like to meet Tesla, as well as many other folks like Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. If you missed your chance to contribute, I encourage you to submit your responses below in the comments area. Or, give the article a read, either by reading TLT online (look to the September 2013 issue), or by going directly to the article (PDF).

The book was very brief (about 120 pages) and less about Tesla (than expected) and more about the nature of genius and creativity. The book makes 4 arguments:
  1. That you have to be "'smart enough' to fulfill the intellectual requirements for success" but after that, IQ ceases to make a distinguishable difference. Akin to being "tall enough" for the NBA. However, IQ alone doesn't explain success. 
  2. Another common factor that researchers recognize in all great performers: "they practiced so hard and intensely that it hurt," with the author referring to the "10,000 hour rule." Dr. K Anders Ericsson coined the phrase, and regardless if you have an innate talent, he argues that you need that amount of hours of "focused, intentional practice." 
  3. Not only that, you need to have dedication - because 10,000 hours is a lot of work. 
  4. Finally, there's the issue of opportunities. If you haven't read it, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell is also a good, solid read, and if you like hockey (among other things), provides some insight into the sport and its stars. Basically, being closer to the cut-off age to play hockey meant you got an entire year to get better and outshine other, younger (and smaller) players. Hence, you were given more opportunities, creating an "accumulative advantage" compared to other kids with later birthdays.
Utilizing these concepts, the author presents the idea of the "genius code," penned by psychologist Dr. Alfred Barrios. This particular book addresses one component of the code: imagination. And below are some quotes I found particularly interesting along this vein:
  • "When you start viewing creativity as a process of combination, and imagination as the ability to connect, stretch, and merge things in new ways, creative brilliance becomes  less mystifying. A creative genius is just better at connecting the dots than others are."
  • "There's a catch to 'combinatorial creativity,' though. Before you can connect the dots, you need to have dots to connect...The more varied your knowledge and experiences are, the more likely you are to be able to create new associations and fresh ideas."
  • "It takes curiosity to find your call to adventure, it takes courage to venture into the unknown, and it takes imagination to create your path." And, like Tesla, you must create something "exactly as you envision it, no matter how much work it takes, or how many people try to stop you."
If you didn't get a chance to respond to the survey, which genius would you include on the list and what would you ask them? And, if you've read the book, what are your thoughts? Include them in the comments below!