Thursday, June 21, 2012

You Can't Tame a Genius!

Meet the Consultant!

Have you heard of Ram Charan? 
It's highly unlikely that you did. I certainly didn't before working on this piece. But most CEOs of the top Fortune 500 did, and they consider him to be The Rain Man of management. Back in 2007, Fortune Magazine wrote a lengthy detailed profile on the exotic life style of Ram Charan, and the opening statement was:
"What he does is hard to describe. But the most powerful CEOs love it enough to keep him on the road 24/7 and make him the most influential consultant alive."Charn's life is anything but ordinary. A typical week of his is normally composed of daily traveling around the globe, across the 7 continents catering to the needs to multibillion dollars corporates. He's so extraordinary at what he does that Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of the giant communications company Verizon says "I love him. He's my secret weapon."An investigation at Charn's early life revels a hard working, highly driven individual. This is a snapshot of the past 40 years of Charn's life:This is his 37th year working for GE, his 33rd for DuPont. He has been with Ivan Seidenberg at least 20 years, and with former West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton more than 30 years.In contemporary terms, the reason why Ran Charan is an exceedingly proclaimed consultant is because he is an expert. And through the past 40 years he has been cultivating these expertise and created an unparalleled track of extraordinary accomplishments.'Experts' psychologist Anders Ericsson tells us that a person needs at least 10 years (more accurately: 10,000 hours) of deliberate practice to achieve true mastery. It seems the brain needs that amount of time to comprehend an apprenticeship.Experts in today's world manage companies. They know so much about the business that business owners like to keep them around. Their vast knowledge it too valuable to be squandered.However, this post isn't a celebration of corporate or management experts. Nor to undermined them. In this post I want to discuss the particulars that separate Experts from Geniuses. Charn is a good example of an expert; he's a loyal corporate person, committed to a job, reliable and, like most other professionals, his job comes first.

But is he a Genius?

A 'Genius'?

'Genius' is a tricky term. Derived from the Roman word 'genii ', it originally meant the spirit that possess a person at given time, since those 'individuals' accomplishments were so exceptional and couldn't be explained. Media have distorted the term: they anchored geniuses with the 'crazy scientists' look working in a lap and microscoping down on a Petri dish with his shaggy hair and broken glasses or running around the streets naked and shouting 'Eureka, Eureka!!'
But this is a limited description of geniuses are like. The closest way to describe them would be "Intellectual Mavericks." But the term still demands further clarification. We often lump geniuses with scientific advances. That's probably why when we hear the term, we directly construct a mental image of people like Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking.
In this post I want to challenge those assumptions, and expand on what a genius is ought to be.
Just like experts, geniuses, too need their own 10,000 hours of deliberate practice; this requires an enormous amount of dedication and hard work. But what truly separates experts from geniuses, in my opinion, is the operating system. Geniuses operate on an entrepreneurial operating system; they take risks for what they feel passionate for. Experts on the other hand, don't have that luxury. Their operating system can't depend on chances or miracles. They operate to meet quarter deadlines and cooperate dividends. Geniuses create breakthroughs and paradigm shifts. Experts capitalize and optimize on those breakthroughs. Geniuses are artist. Experts are executors. Geniuses have inspirational mentors. Experts have managers.
The telling difference between those two concepts is the mindset. For us to appreciate what distinct between an expert and a genius, we need an example of a genius like we did for experts. And Hollywood is a good place to start.

Meet the Genius!

What is the common factor between The Lion King, Crimson Tide, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, The Dark Knight, and Inception; other than the fact that they're either Oscars winners or nominees?
A reasonable assumption would be that they share the same director. But they don't. And no one actor had starred in all of them. Nor were they written by the same author.Strangely, the common factor among them is something that lingers in the background: music. Those movies shared one composer: Hans Zimmer. Hans is a truly remarkable innovator, and throughout the past 20 years he scored an Oscar, and been nominated for a total of 8 Oscars. He's composed for over 100 movies through his illustrious carrier.

And if you were to list your top 10 movies from the past 20 years, chances are Zimmer composed one or more of them.
What makes Hanz Zimmer a genius? In essence: he's a risk taker. His unorthodox style of combining the old musical schools with the new musical technologies has earned him a unique reputation. He creates captivating art. His works can't be quantified. They aren't measured by quarter earnings; rather by how deeply impactful it was. And in order to produce such, you've to be adventurous. But experts can be adventurous, can't they? That mindset is attainable. Right?
Believe it or not, it's not that easy. They have followed rigid disciplines throughout their lives, starting from conventional education to control-based work environments. They're soaked in a sea of strictness.
A good distinction of what separates experts from geniuses comes from Neil Gaiman in his speech to the University of the Arts, describes what cripples experts:"People who know what they are doing know the rules and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not, and you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don't know it's impossible, it's easier to do.
And because nobody's done it before, they haven't made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again."
The curious part is that both Hans Zimmer and Neil Gaiman held a dislike to formal education. In fact, they didn't pursue it. They operated in a world of their own invention, and they created the rules there. Unlike the experts who have to answer the board of directors.

A Trait of Geniuses!

Let's take the idea of how could institutionalized thinking paralyze creativity a step further.
Here is a list of arguably the top 9 novels in the past 200 years or so. Keep in mind while reading the following: Those writers are on this list not because they scored best sellers or achieved a level of celebritism. Rather, because their ideas have created paradigm shifts:

Anna Karenina
Madame Bovary
To Kill a Mocking Bird
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Great Gatsby
In Search of Lost Time
The Stories of Anton Chekhov

Now, let's run a quick analysis of the masters who created them:
Anna Karenina: written by Leo Tolstoy. And what did he study? law and oriental languages at Kazan University. In fact his teachers described him as "both unable and unwilling to learn." And later on, Tolstoy left university in the middle of his studies. He started writing after he joined the army.
Madame Bovary: written by the French author Gustave Flaubert. And just like Tolstoy, he studied Law. And just like Tolstoy, he was an uninterested student.
Lolita: third person on our list is the Russian Vladimir Nabokov. He enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge, majored in Zoology at first, and then Slavic and Romance languages. He later drew on his Cambridge experiences to write the novel Glory.
To Kill a Mocking Bird: written by Haper Lee. She went to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. She enrolled in law studies. After her first year in the law program, Lee began expressing to her family that writing—not Law—was her true calling. She went to Oxford University in England that summer as an exchange student. Returning to her law studies that fall, Lee dropped out after the first semester and moved to New York City to pursue her hopes to become a writer.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The American Mark Twain, he educated himself in Liberal Arts.
The Great Gatsby: authored by the great American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. At the age of 16, he was expelled from the St. Paul Academy for neglecting his studies. He later on joined Princeton University. He's academic curriculum there was unknown.
In Search of Lost Time: written by the French author Marcel Proust. Proust enrolled at the Lycée Condorcet, a French school, but his education was disrupted because of his illness.The Stories of Anton Chekhov: a Russin short story writer. He gained admission to Moscow University where he studied for a medical degree and became a prominent physician.
1984: The great influential novelist George Orwell. His family couldn't afford to send him to a proper university, and he failed to obtain a scholarship. Through external pressure he ended up working for the Indian Police Service.
The array shows a pretty consistent pattern, doesn’t? The authors of the most influential and memorable literature productions had to departure from conventional education. And why wouldn't they? It would have told them what is possible and what is impossible. Education would have smothered their passion and turned them in experts; someone who optimizes the works of others.

Albert Einstein held a similar grudge toward formal education. Read the following from the essay 'Einstein As a Student' by Dudley Herschbach of Harvard University:"He did well, both in primary and high school, but "the style of teaching in most subjects was repugnant to him."Especially galling at the Gymnasium was the 'military tone...the systematic training in the worship of authority.'"And what of his passion for intellectual prowess? Well, it wasn't the product of formal education. Rather it was an all- in the family effort. Here is Herschbach again:"Albert's intellectual growth was strongly fostered at home. His mother, a talented pianist, ensured the children's musical education. His father regularly read Schiller and Heine aloud to the family. Uncle Jakob challenged Albert with mathematical problems, which he solved with a deep feeling of happiness."

The Intellectual Mavericks!

Allow me herein, to present one finale example of how difficult it's for geniuses to fit with formal rigid methods because it tames their spirits. Someone who is just as famous and influential as Albert Einstein: Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the American efforts to develop the nuclear bomb during World War II. It could safely be said that this man had held one of the most important jobs of the twentieth century!

Robert Oppenheimer with Albert Einstein
As a student, Oppenheimer pursued his doctorate in physics at Cambridge University. There, he faced a repentant problem. His gift was for theoretical physics, but his adviser, a future Nobel prize winner by the name Patrick Blackett forced him to go for experimental physics, which Oppenheimer disliked. To resolve this obstacle, Oppenheimer, in an outrageously strange act, devised a plan to avoid experimental physics. He snuck into a laboratory, smuggled some chemicals and tried to poison his adviser! Luckily the adviser sensed that something was a mess and survived. Oppenheimer was subjected to therapy.

You can't tame a genius!

Geniuses, it should be pointed out, aren't always separated from education. They need to acquire knowledge from somewhere. It's just they don't function well under rigid management!Most of us, I can safely assume, are future experts. Except the lucky ones, all of us have been subjected to conventional education were control replaced engagement, orders replaced autonomy, and monetary rewards replaced passion.But are we condemned to this fact? I strongly believe we're not. We are born to seek enlightenment, in whichever form it may come. Just look at the array presented up there of creative geniuses, they all made the decisions and sought control and mastery. They realized that their inner fire could be extinguished, and they repelled. They took a risk, and now we're enjoying the fruits of their decisions. Any highly motivated, hard working individual can optimize a system. With proper knowledge and education, we can all become experts. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, some individuals make a conscious, rational decisions to serve an entity. But the outcomes of conventional education predetermined that this is the way we all ought to be. It stripped of our chances. But knowledge doesn't only come via that entity. It can be sought elsewhere; it comes in various forms and vast options.Take the opportunity, seek your true self and embrace it. Your happiness is your own responsibility.