As an executive search consultant that specializes in technology, I frequently encounter genius candidates. It is my job to determine which ones are top performers. While it is easy to be blinded by brilliance, successful geniuses must do, in addition to think. Still, genius is as magnificent to behold as it is awkward, as this scene from HBO’s Silicon Valley captures so well. Here, the genius of venture capitalist character Peter Gregory is revealed through his process.
Genius — or insanity — is the ability to see what others do not. With genius, what you see is real. It just hasn’t been made manifest yet. Geniuses make connections that elude everyone else, as was the case with math prodigy and schizophrenic John Nash Jr., on whose life the movie A Beautiful Mind is based. Remarkably, Dr. Nash is able to discern which imaginings are delusions and which are intellectually transcendent. While in a bar, Russell Crowe’s Nash discovers what later became known as Nash Equilibrium in game theory.
In Rainman, Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt is an autistic savant with the ability to memorize part of the phonebook . . . when there were such things as phonebooks.
Yet Babbitt’s stunning ability to memorize has little practical application in the real world. We have computers with the ability to store vast amounts of data. Employers don’t need a human to do that, particularly if that human lacks social skills. Far more important is our ability to reason, to extrapolate, and to play nicely with others — unless the others aren’t so nice in return, as is the case in this scene from Good Will Hunting.
As is also the case in the movie Social Network. Here the Mark Zukerberg-like character portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg verbally shreds his opponents in a lawsuit.
Of course, if you weren’t born a genius, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. You may simply be a late bloomer, as Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The New Yorker details.
Yes, there was Orson Welles, peaking as a director at twenty-five. But then there was Alfred Hitchcock, who made “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Trouble with Harry,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho”—one of the greatest runs by a director in history—between his fifty-fourth and sixty-first birthdays. Mark Twain published “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at forty-nine. Daniel Defoe wrote “Robinson Crusoe” at fifty-eight.
While IQ can play an important role in determining one’s success, research has found one cannot succeed on genius alone. Wisdom is required.