Ideas, Genius, and Perspective

Genius, obsession, serendipity, and epiphany. These are words Malcolm Gladwell used in a writing called In the Air to explain the algorithm of invention. But as he writes, he goes on to say that although these can lead to invention, they aren’t the only means to get there.

In an earlier post called Types of Intelligence and Challenge Approaches I mention a study completed in the 1960s that determined humans use four types of approaches to solve challenges: analytically, procedurally, relationally (collaboratively), and innovatively. The human brain sometime prior to adolescents abandons two of the approaches and focuses on the other two. My guess is the emphasis on deductive and inductive reasoning in the world today means that analytical and procedure approaches are the two that persist in most people.

But another article I’ve commented on is by Daniel Pink called What Kind of Genius are You? and it’s premise is there are two types of genius – Conceptualists and Experimentalists. Conceptualists create their acclaimed art early in their lives and Experimentalists continually improve their craft to an eventual apex.


Many geniuses peak early, creating their masterwork at a tender age …

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Age 29

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Pablo Picasso
Age 26

Citizen Kane
Orson Welles
Age 26

The Vietnam War Memorial
Maya Lin
Age 23

The Marriage of Figaro
Wolfgang Mozart
Age 30


… while others bloom late, doing their best work after lifelong tinkering.

Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
Age 50

Château Noir
Paul Cézanne
Age 64

Alfred Hitchcock
Age 59

Frank Lloyd Wright
Age 70

Symphony No. 9
Ludwig van Beethoven
Age 54

But you’ll notice that this list is made up of artists. Maybe even of people who are relational and innovative challenge solvers. These people use a different part of the brain. Not a literal part, but rather an emotional part.

Many people remember the movie Good Will Hunting. The lead character is Will Hunting, a genius. The story is a very entertaining illustration of the imperfections a brilliant mind can have. But lets get back to Gladwell’s writing In the Air. He wants people to realize that many leaps in invention happen one way or another. It isn’t a touch from God. It is a coming together of ideas. What is most important is having a multitude of idea experience at your disposal. Someone like Will Hunting or Alexander Graham Bell have it all accessible as their mind arranges information, but others get there by having friends, acquaintances, and coworkers who fill that void for them. Most of the time all that comes from it is idle day dreaming. But there are people who take the ideas and move them forward – be it a scientific discovery or the telephone. What is more amazing is that there are usually at least two people doing this. Here are some examples behind the observation of “multiples”:

  • Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus
  • Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both discovered evolution
  • Three mathematicians surmised decimal fractions
  • Joseph Priestly and Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered oxygen a year apart
  • Charles Cros and Louis Ducos du Hauron invented photography
  • John Napier and Henry Briggs in Britain and Joost Burgi in Switzerland invented logarithms

What this proves, along with many other examples, is ideas are not exclusive, but rather a race against time. And unless you are one of the few people who uses collaborative and innovative challenge solving methods, I suggest you take your idea to the US Patent Office as soon as you can. Chances are someone else is already there.


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