One of the challenges with writing about the meaning and nature of genius is finding an adequate definition. Let me identify a characteristic of a genius:
- Geniuses solve problems that novices cannot.
- Geniuses solve problems that novices can solve but much more rapidly and accurately.
We also observe that the thinking process used by genius to solve problems is briefer, reflecting that more subprocesses have been automated.
I have taught martial arts since 1998. Last week, I was doing some punching with one of my students, Kenny. I wanted Kenny to throw a left jab then a right cross. A novice would need to be told “left punch, right punch” – or something even more simple. Someone who had trained with me for a while could be told “double head punch”. However, Kenny had done quite a bit of boxing training; for him “one-two” was enough. Indeed, even after a few minutes, if I used the term “left-right” or “double head-punch”, he would internally translate that as “one-two”. Kenny is skilled, but he is not an expert or a ‘genius’.
My original fascination in genius came from the contrast between Jack and Barry. Barry studied hard. Jack didn’t. But they got similarly outstanding results.
When we were 16, they completed an examination in advanced mathematics. Here, they were asked to show a proof. However, the proof was impossible. Each identified that the question was flawed and so in a sense ‘solved’ the problem. To gain marks for the problem, Barry provided six pages of working. Jack only provided three pages.
At the time, we thought that Jack was smarter – after all, he had worked it out in half the time that it took Barry. However, while Barry was granted full credit for his six pages of working, Jack was only granted half-marks.
One more thing to remember (that has relevance to the self-help goal setting world):
- Experts work forward, noticing and reporting consequences of the ‘givens’ until a solution appears, at least on problems that are easy for them.
- Novices work backwards from the problem goal.
Make your life easier: Frame your questions. Through finding the right framing, you increase your chances of finding the models and strategies that can give you the answer you seek.