Why Geniuses Rock

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Author Byline: Moira Cue spent six happy and successful years working at a premier labor and employment law firms, which represents more than half the Fortune 50 clients. Working directly with many of those companies' HR personnel and her former firm's senior level client service executives gave her an in-depth, from-the-trenches view of what makes large businesses grow and succeed. Her passions include animation, painting, literature, film, and music of almost all genres, yoga and long distance running, as well as protecting the environment and other social causes.

USC faculty and management consultant Dave Logan's online article, "Why Geniuses Don't Have Jobs," for CBS Money Watch starts out positively enough: “We have a massive problem with our employment system, which robs companies of great talent, and creates cultures of mediocrity. The problem is that we don't know how to employ geniuses.
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For this blog post, I'm not defining genius as IQ, nor am I saying we're all geniuses. We're not. Thanks in part to the Steve Jobs legacy, "genius" has become synonymous with someone who is smart and able to offer out-of-the-box ideas. The inevitable conclusion is that we're all geniuses in some way.

In this piece, let's define a genius as a person with some ability that would rate a 9 or 10 on a ten-point scale. Genius usually shows up in certain contexts and not others ….”

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Logan goes on to describe three types of genius, all of which sound like archetypes for new Dexter-esque anti-heroes ala One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. "Gregarious geniuses" have ADHD (or worse!) and eventually get fired because they can't control their tongues. “Isolated geniuses” are a step lower, because, with Asperger's Syndrome or social phobia, they interview so poorly they can't get hired in the first place. In the third group, the “unpredictable” genius, the label “bipolar or even weirder” applies.

Nor are the negative labels Logan applies to the gifted and talented unique. When you Google “why geniuses...” the browser suggests, in addition to “don't have jobs,” the unhappy phrases, “fail,” “go crazy,” and “are socially awkward.” In other words, the majority of people doing Internet searches about geniuses are looking for, and finding, negative generalizations.

Though our personal correspondence, Anneli Vitterskog, former chairperson; Mensa west, Sweden, has suggested (and I'm paraphrasing) that the attachment needs of gifted children may be more intense than those of the children with median IQ level. The categories Logan suggests, Ms. Vitterskog states, could all correlate to various attachment difficulties. The isolated genius is Avoidant, the unpredictable genius is Ambivalent, and the gregarious genius is happy enough with secure relationships at home, or he is Avoidant-attachment challenged in an extroverted way.

I was raised in a nuclear family where every one of us has a high level IQ, though we all have different strengths, weaknesses, and maturation rates of various talents. As a former child prodigy in painting, and a current creative poly-hyphenate, I have been called the "g-word" often enough by qualified persons in my respective fields. (I've been called a few other names, too, that I won't repeat.) Not until I read “Why Geniuses Don't Have Jobs” and the outpouring of emotions in the comments section, did I realize how much of past interpersonal difficulties I've experienced are surprisingly common to others on the high end of the IQ bell curve.

Many of humanity's best minds have been subjected to varying degrees of arbitrary abuse. The masses are happy enough to enjoy the products and services created by geniuses, but no one likes to feel stupid or inferior. And while we have laws and social campaigns to protect people from abuse based on their religion, gender, gender identity, race, national origin, and more, the hapless geek or the brainy know-it-all are legally fair game in the workplace. Fair, it is not.

Geniuses rock. Look at Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, or Jimi Hendrix. Geniuses roll, like Henry Ford and Nikola Tesla. Geniuses conquer. Look at Steve Jobs. Napoleon Hill. Winston Churchill. Geniuses gave us rockets to go to the moon, geniuses won every election through strategic genius, geniuses designed or created every work of art, from film and fashion to freelance photography, that ever moved you. In place of social acceptance and goodwill automatically granted "regular" people, geniuses are viewed as something akin to aliens: objects of scorn, envy, ridicule, or worship.

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I used to assume that the craving for accomplishment was universal and everybody aspires to be a genius, but that's not the case. Dave Logan's article is written for business men and women working for large companies. His definition refers to high achievers, people who, if attracted to a corporation through aggressive and progressive recruiting, can be retained through wise management policies and sufficient compensation. These are not, statistically speaking, the people who (sooner or later) become subjects of biographies. In the corporate world, people who make names for themselves are the ones who start companies. Ironically, it's perhaps useless for management to base an ideal "genius management" relationship model on, those I would call "actualized" geniuses.

I've studied individual genius primarily via the locus of painting and other expressive arts. Those who especially excel in creative fluidity, I feel, show a primary hallmark of genius in the practical and long-term sense. We all know that painters' and other artist's biographies are memorable because of extreme personality types as mentioned in "Why geniuses Don't Have Jobs."

Considering famous painters of history I admire, I think they didn't have jobs because they were expressing their genius through painting. A job would infringe on time otherwise spent in free creative expression. Some, like Salvador Dali, lived lavish lifestyles. Dali was self-employed. Painting was a career. Others, like Vincent van Gogh, or Forrest Bess, seemed to live in ether and mist of their own creation. Their paintings radiate a sense of purity beyond so-called "crass materialism."

I can't imagine any of the Modern greats behind a desk in one of today's cubicles. Matisse is an unusual case; he was an attorney before becoming an artist. By his own admission, he had little interest in law. Although Matisse passed the bar in 1888 with distinction, he seems to have only lasted a year before discovering his true passion, painting, in 1889.

And van Gogh, notoriously, failed commercially during his own lifetime. Today, his name evokes a pathos greater than the word icon. Vincent van Gogh is a cultural archetype: The Tragic (aka Misunderstood) Genius. The manifestation of this archetype is rampant, evidenced by comments from geniuses on "Why geniuses Don't Have Jobs," such as a gentleman with an IQ of 156 who stated he was not working because of his "inability to cope with management fools." He bitterly concluded, "America in particular worships an imaginary equality of ability and opportunity at the expense of its greatest talents." ... So much for the "Land of Opportunity!"

The archetype of the Misunderstood Genius could not exist without a society which expresses so much hate toward gifted individuals. A descriptive example of such vitriol is provided by a "Why Geniuses Don't Have Jobs" reader who stated, "Of all the geniuses I've known, most were absolute jerks, and I've known many. They were condescending, hateful, short tempered, interrupted people when speaking, know-it-alls, snobbish, eccentric, bizarre, smug, self-absorbed, intolerant, plus completely incapable of realizing any of the above.... and could care less. In other words, they are weirdos."

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Does being a genius really make a person so despicable? Or do unexamined but ingrained prejudices simply do that much damage? Progressive thinkers and inclusive leaders, in and outside the workplace, can demystify and develop genius in themselves and others by recognizing negative stereotypes, keeping an open mind, and regularly engaging in exercises, such as art appreciation, where there is no "how-to" kit or manual provided. If more people shared the burden of genius (the burden of creating a good society) wouldn't there be more benefits for everyone?


This story is ©2013, Moira Cue / The Hollywood Sentinel, all world rights reserved.