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I heard the best question in a long time. I had just finished speaking to 300 people in Yokohama, Japan. At the end of my talk a 10-year-old girl in a bright blue t-shirt approached me and with considerable directness asked, “Why do you call me a genius? I don’t feel like no genius.”
Now that’s a good question. It gave me an opportunity to refine my thinking about the content of my presentation. If you have ever been to one of my live presentations you know that you get called a genius a lot. So… what’s the deal? Kids always ask the best and most honest questions.
Genius is not a thing, it is a process. William James said, “Genius is the art of non-habitual thinking”.
He went on to state, “Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are dampened, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources…. Stating the thing broadly, the human individual lives far within his limits.”
Genius is not about being perfect. We have all been trained to avoid mistakes. The goal in school is to get 100%, no mistakes, get an “A”. In business, we hire for perfect, manage for perfect, and reward for perfect. Is it any wonder most of our work is standardised, doesn’t tell a story, and is not worth talking about?
Genius is actually quite a messy business. We have all been told to think outside the box. But that’s not what genius is. Genius is thinking along the edge of the box. That’s where the audience is and that’s where things get done. That’s where you will make an impact and create your story!
One of the many things I love about my job is that I get to read a lot. I read this great Bob Dylan quote in Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin: “Daltrey, Townsend, McCartney, the Beach Boys, Elton, Billy Joel. They made perfect records, so they have to play them perfectly… exactly the way people remember them. My records were never perfect. So there is no point in trying to duplicate them. Anyway, I’m no main stream artist.
“I guess most of my influences could be thought of as eccentric. Mass media had no overwhelming reach so I was drawn to the travelling performers passing through.
“The side show performers – bluegrass singers, the black cowboy with chaps and a lariat doing rope tricks. Miss Europe, Quasimodo, the Bearded Lady, the half-man half-woman, the deformed and the bent, Atlas the Dwarf, the fire-eaters, the teachers and preachers, the blues singers.
“I remember like it was yesterday. I got close to some of these people. I learned about dignity from them. Freedom too. Civil rights, human rights. How to stay within yourself. Most others were into the rides like the tilt-a-whirl and the roller-coaster. To me that was the nightmare. All the giddiness. The artificiality of it….”
The interviewer then reminded Dylan, “But you’ve sold over 300 million records.” Dylan’s answer gets to the heart of what it means to be a genius: “Yeah I know. It’s a mystery to me too.”
There is mystery all around you… look for it… be mindful… that will lead you to your genius…
Congratulations on learning something about your brain today.
Always remember: “You are a genius!”
Enjoy your brain.
This article was first published on terrysmall.com