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More Than One Kind Of Genius?

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Sometimes, some young genius comes along and leaves the rest of us wondering at the lack of such achievement in our own lives. Strobist David Hobby summed it up when he described Canadian Photographer Joey Lawrence as

“… kicking butt. He is doing killer still photography, shooting music videos and traveling the world… Oh yeah, and he is only 17 years old. As a 42-year-old, that last tidbit is the kind of thing that tends to really piss me off. “

What are the rest of us to think of ourselves as we work less direct routes to our intended creative destinies? If a 17 year has already landed on the distant shores we hope to reach one day, what does that say about us?

It says that we shouldn’t give up, says David Galenson. Galenson is a economist, who has been quietly and carefully analyzing data on creative genius through history. Galenson is described in Daniel H. Pink’s Wired article What Kind of Genius Are You? as the great redeemer for the rest of us:

“Now, however, Galenson might have done something at last, something that could provide hope for legions of late bloomers everywhere. Beavering away in his sunny second-floor office on campus, he has scoured the records of art auctions, counted entries in poetry anthologies, tallied images in art history textbooks – and then sliced and diced the numbers with his econometric ginsu knife. Applying the fiercely analytic, quantitative tools of modern economics, he has reverse engineered ingenuity to reveal the source code of the creative mind.

“What he has found is that genius – whether in art or architecture or even business – is not the sole province of 17-year-old Picassos and 22-year-old Andreessens. Instead, it comes in two very different forms, embodied by two very different types of people. “Conceptual innovators,” as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans. Then there’s a second character type, someone who’s just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson calls this group “experimental innovators.” Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers. Galenson maintains that this duality – conceptualists are from Mars, experimentalists are from Venus – is the core of the creative process. And it applies to virtually every field of intellectual endeavor, from painters and poets to economists.”

In spite of his slightly pedantic writing style, (Wired is the male intellectualist’s tech mag of choice,) Pink’s article is a fun read because it gives hope to those of us still on our climb up.

I’ve always called myself a percolator, because of the way I research and mull things over before I create. Pink’s article reminds us that creatives and their masterpieces come together under more than one deadline. And no matter what kind of genius you turn out to be, it still requires the same thing you’ve always heard it would. Dedication. Persistence. Work.

So answer me this:

What kind of genius are you?


Written by Eirene Dyeu

January 2, 2008 at 6:42 am