Why genius does not exist

Our society likes to glamourize genius, overnight successes and anything that can be attributed to inherent advantages. If you’re remotely close to VC-Twitter you’ll hear talk about brilliant founders; if you’re into sports, journalists talking about talent and in dinner parties where “charismatic” is the common description for successful people. It turns out things are a bit different and if anything, for better or worse, intelligence does not matter a lot.

There’s a few sound arguments against genius myth:

1. The intelligence delta between a “genius” in the top 0.1% and an upper bound average average individual according to their IQ is roughly 30% (average between 110 and genius = 140).

This means that at any given point, someone can be 30% faster compared to another average person at the same topic. Assuming all other personality traits and background to be the same, then it would take the average individual ~ 1 hour more to work through the 3 hour problem the of the high IQ.

Considering that most people spend 1+ hours per day in social media, this does not seem a lot.

2. There’s a few researchers and authors who make a great case that “compounding” returns is what make a difference in achievement; not inherent ability. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this extensively in his book outliers, introducing concepts like the 10,000 hour rule and “concerted education” and Angela Duckworth in Grit where she explains her model that achievement = passion x effort =>Skill x effort = achievement.

In other words, anything worth mentioning takes time and even if someone is 30% smarter, they need to put in years of work to create something remarkable. Then intelligence does matter. But if someone is smart and quits in a matter of months and someone is less intellectually apt yet passionate enough about the task at hand to dedicate years, the winner is clear and it’s not the most intelligent one.

Considering how many people truly excel and the time dedicated, It’s more remarkable and rare to score high on grit and perseverance than intelligence.

3. Take a really fast computer to solve complex problem with a large dataset and run a dumb, inefficient algorithm and you will be disappointed. Take a mediocre computer with an optimized algorithm and rest delighted in the speed differential.

This is so true in humans. Where software, replace with mental models and thought patterns. Our lives and the decisions we make are vastly more complicated than what we can process alone. We rely on collective knowledge and intelligence to survive. Good decision making is much more important than raw processing power and yet it’s not the smartest that makes the most efficient use of mental models or perspective. It takes training, not ability.

4. Capital is the largest intelligence differentiator.

Capital allows indiscriminate additions of intelligence to one’s roster.

Almost certainly it’s better to work with a designer, a programmer and a writer than you doing all these jobs. In fact, mental models imply this would be wrong (context switching costs).

This is also useful in answering the question:”Should you hone your skills or strengthen your weaknesses?”

Slightly tangential, yet I think it’s fair to answer: None of the above. If you want maximum impact, partner with others and let them hone their respective strengths to complement your weaknesses.

Of course this answer only fares well from an organizational perspective but is there a worthy pursuit which only an individual is interested in?

Coincidentally the reasons geniuses don’t exist is also the recipe to productivity, purpose and achievement. Go make your genius.

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