Where are all those geniuses?

Physically dead, emotionally dead. Some turned into regular people and are no longer gifted, and just few of them were lucky enough to find a way to continue the growth and unleash their potential.

Many geniuses fall into a trap of feeling entitled to everything. They believe that if they were born gifted, they don’t need to work hard on anything because they’ve learnt during school days that everything comes easily. Well, it comes easily because school is easy, but life is not. At certain point, you need to put in the hard work to be successful. Genius solely is not enough and being good at school means almost nothing. Being good at school means you’re good at school, and only this. Life is a whole different story. Genius does help a lot if you’re willing to put in the work, because you can learn and solve problems faster than “regular” people. However if you don’t use the gift to improve the process of self-development, it’s all for nothing. Genius is like steroids. It helps and speeds up the process a lot, but if you don’t work out and keep the diet, the effect are minimal.

Some geniuses have emotional problems because of the way they perceive and feel the world. Society and day-to-day life doesn’t help those who have different perspective and extraordinary view on life. These miserable ones end up being addicted to drugs which turn them in zombies instead of next Einsteins.
Some commit suicide because they can’t handle reality and drugs either don’t help anymore or had actually amplified the bad feelings which became uncontrollable.

Some just don’t care about being successful and decide to have a regular life because this is what makes them happy. The moment they understand that we’re all going to die – and no one knows when – then everything, every hustle becomes redundant hassle. So why bother, what is the career pursuit all for?

Few lucky ones use their potential and conquer the world with big corporations. Some get famous while most stay in the shadows and just do the work they love so someone else can brag about it. Math geniuses go into financial industry and manage $billions for banks or are working their asses off in other way for big brands. A couple of months ago I’ve read an article on Forbes(I suppose) listing ~30 geniuses under 30, who manage huge operations for major financial institutions and that was the first and probably last time I’ve heard about those people.

And there are also alienated individuals no one heard about yet, who are working on something big which will kick Facebook’s ass, like Zuckerberg did to MySpace.
There are many things stopping genius from going public. Sometimes they’re just shy and worried because saying that you’re a genius is perceived as a show-off. Speaking about high ambitions is being perceived as a show-off. It’s just tough to be an outsider.
Of course there are social circles in which genius is cultivated, but it’s rare. The most common scenario is genius surrounded by average, because the world is average. Do you realize how many unutilized geniuses are there in poor countries and we haven’t heard about them because they had no luck? Just think if we would have Apple today if Jobs wouldn’t have been adopted by the parents he had been and not given a chance to meet like-minded Wozniak.

As much as everything above are the reasons why we don’t hear about breakthroughs made by those genius kids we’ve had heard about years ago, there is a flip side to this. Some genius kids are not geniuses. Some kids are just quick learners with slightly higher IQ.
Genius is unstoppable if motivated appropriately. It’s hard to recognize the difference between genius and simply crazy person because there a thin line that differentiate them.
Genius is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you can achieve tremendous things and curse, because you may not achieve anything because of exactly the same motives.
It’s hard to define what genius is. Is it a kid loved by teachers who gets only A grades or the creative fast-learner and problem solver? Or is it a person crazy enough to poke the life and try to change the world around him to better?
To me it’s not the first one. To me genius isn’t just about gathering the knowledge or being obedient and commonly loved student. It’s about connecting the dots to do marvelous and creative things which aren’t possible to average human beings.
We live in the era where every second kid who earns money on Twitch is praised by parents like he was a next Zuck. In my childhood when I wanted to do creative arts in different to society way and hated school I was called a next piece of shit. Nowadays, there is a high chance I would’ve been that unicorn everyone in family is proud of. Who knows.

What’s worse – be underappreciated genius or over appreciated poseur with huge support group? I don’t know, both suck I guess.

One of the reasons I’m ranting about this is because a couple of weeks ago I’ve read about 9 year old genius who’s starting the college this year. Yeah, regular college in Poland. Everyone was amazed by this, while grumpy myself thought that there is a high chance for his genius to be wasted if all he’s given is a regular university with regular(including messed up) people. Most people saw only small picture “genius kid”, instead of “how do we make him genius adult?”. Here is the thing – humans are social animals who incredibly fast adapt to the environment they’re living in. It means that if we put the genius among regular people, he’ll get regular along the way.
If we(society) give him challenges as easy as we give average people, he’ll get average. He’ll get a feeling that it’s all simple and the life is easy. World isn’t simple, and if we don’t prepare a kid for tough parts in life, he’ll get lost. If we don’t give him hard enough problems, he won’t stay motivated because why would he put an effort if the result are the same – he’s going to get the same grades achievable to others. If we don’t protect him, he’ll get beaten up by idiots with IQ of a earthworm.
Don’t get me wrong. I wish him best, but I know reality. It’s not sunshine and rainbows out there, in particular not for geniuses.

People tend to expect a lot from geniuses and smart people, but rarely there is anyone willing to help those gifted people. Society makes everyone average, to later cry how average we are.
It’s kinda funny because exactly the same thing happens in tech world nowadays. Every company expects great skilled professionals but rarely any of them is willing to help newbies grow and educate them. It’s not that I worry about it, because it’s changing and getting better and better, I’m just talking about current state of affairs. Luckily the trend is good, and those organizations which don’t invest in employees, will be crushed by the market, because there is no place for average anymore. So to keep up with greater competition, they’ll need to invest in their employees and catch people with great potential till they’re cheap. But that’s a whole different subject so let’s end it up here so you can think about it yourself if you’re in tech business.

If you’d like to learn more in-depth about all these and get wider perspective then check out great article “Intolerance of genius” by Ian Welsh and read Linchip by Seth Godin. Seth spends ~1/3 of the book to extensively explains the past and this phenomena, which I could summarize by saying – In human factories, there is no place for disobedient genius. Schools kill a genius in those who were born gifted, and corporations give no place for the genius to be reborn. Schools and corporations are just representation of the society. Those are not magical monsters eating extraordinary people. It’s us who do that.

3 thoughts on “Where are all those geniuses?

  1. Pretty much agreed. Genius isn't everything, but it allows certain problems to be tackled that otherwise can't be. Hard work is not always a substitute for genius, and to my chagrin, the reverse is also true. (Though I got away with a LOT less homework than most of my classmates.)

    Genius can also be dangerous. It makes certain activities addictive and I've known too many people who died or burned out or got very damaged as a result, generally in their 30s and 40s.

    And yeah, schools kill genius. A good book on that, strangely is Keith Johnstone's opus “Impro”, which while ostensibly about improvisational theatre is really about how life conspires to kill our creativity and joy of life.


  2. So much agree with statements in your comment, that there isn't a lot I can add to it.
    Genius is capable of doing extraordinary things others simply can't, even if there is 20 people putting in tons of work to achieve the goal. It just is what it is, and most of the society don't get it.

    The part about burn out and self-damage is real deal, as I've also seen these tendencies in gifted people, who after a few years of doing something realized that it went out of control. And they had no idea about it while they were doing it <- lack of this awareness is scary. Thanks for book recommendation. Will try to find it somewhere, though it's 1987 so may not be the easiest thing to do.
    But well, who said anything is going to be easy, especially when it's valuable 🙂

    Thanks for commenting! Loved it.


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