What is a genius?

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


I really like this quote by Mozart, who we can mostly agree, was a genius. So, he must have known, right? But what exactly is a genius?


I grew up thinking people like Mozart, Beethoven, Dali, Picasso, Chaplin, Shakespeare, were geniuses. I was taught that in school and I always believed that, I never questioned. When growing up, I encountered other geniuses, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Spielberg, Oprah, and many more. People were just born genius.


But what makes them a genius? Weisberg (1993) expressed that artists like Picasso and Mozart were given the status of geniuses thanks to logical progressions, memory training, opportunity and hard work. These are people that, yes, were creative, innovators, disruptors, but they were also hard working and passionate. Most importantly, they never gave up. Also, why when we think of genius, we think of mostly men? And that was exactly the topic discussed yesterday at a debate I attended.


To celebrate International Women’s Day, Women of the World (WOW) held a Women in the Creative Industries Day filled with debates, awards and inspiring women from all across the creative industries and coming from all over the world. As part of my Chevening scholarship we were invited to attend. 


The debate that I found most interesting was The Genius Gap: Women and Creative Confidence. The speakers included Tea Uglow, Creative Director of Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney; Harriet Vine, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Tatty Devine; Manjit Thapp, illustrator and Sabrina Mahfouz, playwright, poet and screenwriter; it was chaired by Gillian Moore; Director of Music at Southbank Centre.


To start, each one had to explain what they considered a genius person. Most of them talked about traits, someone who is not afraid to speak their mind, to be different, to be confident, to break the rules. Most of them agreed that usually they associate the genius term to man. Tea said for that we shouldn’t use the genius word anymore, because everyone can be a genius if they work hard and are passionate about what they do.


Csikszentmihalyi (1996) agrees that sometimes we call someone who is creative a genius. But ironically, most creative people nowadays don’t agree with that statement. This was very true at this panel.


Tea said that when she interviews people for internships she likes to pick people who are less confident and help them build that confidence at Google, because she thinks that they will struggle the most in the future.


It was also said that we should recognise genius in the everyday life. When solving a problem in a different way that is a “genius moment” and we should empower and celebrate that with each other and ourselves.


Sabrina mentioned the term “collective genius”. She mentioned that she worked with Netflix in a writers room and that she realised a TV show or a film is the work of not one but a group of genius because if it wasn’t for every single person that product would not be possible. And I couldn’t agree more, film is a collective effort and every single person that is part of that is what makes it possible. It’s a team effort and a collective genius.


Genius can have the meaning we want and we can challenge that meaning every day. We can see anyone we want as a genius. We all have our genius moments and moments we struggle. Sabrina said that she doesn’t “think we need to throw away the word altogether, we just need to reimagine the word”. 


I agree very much with that quote of Mozart at the beginning, if we do something with love, we can do anything.


And on another note, the Oscars this year were all about empowerment, diversity and passion.




References:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996) Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: HarperCollins.


HuffPost (2018). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_iaK3BLmPU (Accessed: 8 March 2018).


Song, J. (2018) ‘Creativity’ [PowerPoint presentation]. BS7702: Conducting Collaborative Creativity. Available at: https://canvas.kingston.ac.uk/courses/4358/pages/session-1-introduction-to-conducting-collaborative-creativity (Accessed: 8 March 2018).


Weisberg, R. (1993) Creativity : beyond the myth of genius. New York: W.H. Freeman.


WOW – Women of the World Festival (2018). Available at: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/festivals-series/women-of-the-world (Accessed: 8 March 2018).