Who Is a Genius?

One of our most surprising and intriguing findings is that Genius can be shared. Once a leader understands their genius, and others on the team know theirs, it opens the possibility for an exchange. Everyone's Genius becomes available to everyone, with potentially dramatic benefits.
10/15/2014 10:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Geniuses are often associated with people like Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Churchill, Nobel Prize winners, major political and business leaders or a child prodigy who plays at Carnegie Hall at the age of 10.

All these people come to mind, but not us. Da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet... not me, not me, definitely not me.

So let's think about this word "genius." If you think about it, geniuses are people who have produced remarkable accomplishments over and over and over again, right? But we all have accomplishments -- extraordinary accomplishments, and many of them. We all have had moments and times of extraordinary performance in our lives. So in my mind, Genius must have been there in those times of people's extraordinary performances.

I am defining Genius as the kind of mindset, attitudes, ideas behind extraordinary performance and extraordinary accomplishment. By that definition, we all have seeds of Genius in us.

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What if we all could be our best all of the time -- our best mindset and attitudes, our best selves? What could be possible? How would that impact our time? Our effectiveness? Our power?

How executives express themselves can provide significant clues to their Genius. We have found that it is possible to train interviewers to listen and codify, interview further and ultimately map out a logic system that is in operation when the leader is being their best. In interviewing more than 500 global executives over the past ten years, it became apparent that everyone, indeed, had access to their own personal mindsets when they were at their most successful, when their Genius was operative (read "Tapping Into Genius" here). It is also apparent that the biggest challenge for all of us is to maintain that kind of state of mind for long durations with high intensity. Perhaps those who do so are the people we refer to as geniuses. If that is the case, then everyone would have access to being a Genius, by applying their own Genius thinking most or all of time. Being a Genius might not be a matter of skill or exceptional talent; it might be a matter of the frequency and the duration and intensity with which people apply the Genius that they already have.

Earlier this month I participated in a panel, Finding Your Genius, with an audience of some of the world's leading businesswomen at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, and reported on some of our research into Genius. The 93 participants engaged in identifying their Genius, their mindset, attitudes and beliefs at play when they were being their best.

One of the questions at the Fortune Summit was how Genius applies in a team setting, beyond just one executive, because corporate success is ultimately about how teams achieve together.

One of our most surprising and intriguing findings is that Genius can be shared. Once a leader understands their genius, and others on the team know theirs, it opens the possibility for an exchange. Everyone's Genius becomes available to everyone, with potentially dramatic benefits.

As we have studied Genius over the past dozen years, we are more and more convinced that Genius is something people have, and not something they are. If we are correct in this assertion, then Genius is an expression of anyone at their best.

Pontish Yeramyan is the President and CEO of performance consulting company, Gap International. Follow her on Twitter.