Like most everyone, I am in awe of genius. It is the ability to look at the everyday and reveal or create something incredible and original, to tackle the enormous challenges and problems we all face and emerge with a solution that others couldn't see. To witness genius in action--to watch somebody operating at such a high level of thought--can be like watching a magic act. How on earth did they do that?!
But as much as I admire it, I am starting to think that genius has gotten a little overrated. Or at the very least, overvalued.
Particularly in business, we champion leaders, colleagues and teammates with a track record of extraordinary insights and ideas. Without doubt, such thinking can drive powerful results. Usually, though, credit is given primarily to whoever had that initial dazzling flash of insight. But that is never the whole story.
More often than not, a great idea is simply a good start--no more, no less. Or, as a friend likes to say, "A great idea and a Metro Card will get you on the subway." Without great execution--and the hard, grueling, unglamorous effort that makes it possible--even the strongest ideas go nowhere.
Just like someone lost in the desert would exchange a pocketful of diamonds for a glass of water, the value of genius always depends on the context. Even when it is critical, it is never all that is necessary.
In today's world, where we are all drawn closer and closer together by everything from technology to tragedies, there are other traits that are just as vital as genius--if not more so. Unfortunately, they are not spoken of with the same breathlessness.
Those qualities are humility, selflessness, empathy, patience and persistence.
From office to home, business to family, success and happiness now depend more than ever on our ability to work and exist together--to cooperate and collaborate. Thanks to the massive changes driven by digital, mobile and social technologies, we are more connected--and more interconnected--than ever before.
The fact is, rugged individualism makes for good movies, but often for bad reality. The driven, Type A, go-it-alone style that was once so synonymous with achievement is giving way to a new--and much more successful--model: diverse, cross-generational, cross-cultural, global teams working together.
The problem with valuing genius--and by extension, geniuses--over everything and everyone else is that we no longer live in a time where all we need is one brilliant leader. If we ever have.
Take The Imitation Game, for example. Yes, the story of how the cryptic Enigma code was broken is told with focus on the work of mathematician Alan Turing and the revolutionary work of his Turing Machine. But as the film and history itself proves, it is only when the brilliant but socially awkward Turing is able to work as part of a team that the code is deciphered. Set during World War II, the film is a powerful analogy for today--as we all come to recognize that collaboration is not only beneficial, but actually essential.
There are still, of course, hold-outs.
We have all worked with people who were inarguably brilliant, but who demanded everyone step aside to let their ideas lead the parade. Though their thinking is truly impressive, they actually stifle more success than they create. They fray the bonds of the team. They create tension, devalue others' contributions, and demotivate those around them. They may have been able to bulldog their vision through to completion, but they also created a dynamic that made long-term success come at a much higher price than necessary.
That's the most dangerous thing about this mentality--how contagious it is, especially in cultures that reward it. Soon, everyone in an organization starts mirroring the behavior that receives recognition, until they are all deeply siloed, unproductively competitive and unable to work together.
It doesn't matter whether the end result is the benefit of a client or a community, to shepherd inspiration into reality today requires not only figureheads, visionaries and lightning rods--but also bridge builders and consensus seekers. These are the unsung heroes who accept direction while meticulously minding the tiny but critical details, the people willing to compromise to resolve stalemates, who don't have egos dependent on constant praise and recognition.
Moving forward, the health and well-being of our lives and businesses could hinge on how effectively we seek out and acknowledge these types of people. If we take a moment to look around, we will surely find examples of quiet, steady greatness we may have overlooked. Every day, we work and live with people who never get the fanfare--but whose tenacious efforts and gracious and generous participation is absolutely central to the quality of our lives and strength of our businesses.
It takes an enormous amount of confidence, good faith and sense of self to work tirelessly to support somebody else's vision. And in an ever faster and more connected world, where it takes a wide host of skill sets to actually execute a strategy, these are the people we must increasingly value.