The One Trait All Geniuses Have in Common, According to a Yale Professor

Photo: Getty Images / Klaus Vedfelt
The word "genius" gets thrown around pretty casually. If someone is truly a genius, it's because they're extremely smart, right? During an episode of Hello Monday, a LinkedIn News podcast, Craig Wright, PhD, author of The Hidden Habits of Genius, explains that the term encompasses so much that we don't realize.

"Everybody uses the word but no one ever defines it. In an odd way, it can be reduced down to a simple mathematical equation," says Dr. Wright, who is also a professor of music at Yale University. "Genius equals significance times the number of people influenced times duration. Geniuses' impact on society—it's not celebrity, it's not one-off flash in the pan that is there for a very short period of time and culture then moves on. It's something that impacts the lives and changes the lives of many people over a long period of time."

The definition of genius shouldn't be limited to IQ, says Dr. Wright.

"IQ is really very much overrated," he says. "Because it is a standardized test that you take and it's such a small part of the human experience that it's not particularly relevant. I tend to like to think of this in terms of what [American developmental psychologist] Howard Gardner called multiple intelligence. What the heck does it mean to be smart? There's all kinds of smarts in this world and people such as Martin Luther King or Gandhi, I have no idea what they would have scored on the IQ test, but they certainly had particular kinds of skills that could never have been measured on the standardized IQ tests."

In his book, Dr. Wright explains that there are a lot of traits that can signify genius, but having them doesn't guarantee that someone actually is a genius.

"There are a lot of hidden habits of genius," says Dr. Wright. "There are a lot of components in this brew and we could say curiosity, we could say passion, we could say tolerance for risk, we could say outsiders satisfied, being comfortable with being a rebel, but we can't guarantee, where this is going to go."

One thing all geniuses do have in common, he says, is thinking against the grain.

"Contrarians are good," says Dr. Wright. "We need contrarians. If you're a contrarian thinker...then you're on the path to genius."

To ensure the world is getting all of the geniuses it can, Dr. Wright says the first step is ensuring equal opportunities.

"The whole very notion of genius is predicated on inequality," he says. "There will be individuals or maybe teams of individuals that come up with a vaccine for the COVID virus and that will be profoundly impactful. The rest of us will not be doing that. These will be the game-changers and not everybody can be a game-changer. But what we have to remember, we are not going to be able to maximize genius, the capacity to change culture for the better, unless we enfranchise everybody on an equal footing. And that means giving everybody equal opportunity in terms of education, in terms of encouragement, in terms of materials at their disposal to be all that they can be."

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