Genius and Madness


When you Google “why geniuses…” the search engine giant’s algorithm’s suggest filling in the blank with pleasant predicates including, “don’t have jobs,” “fail,” and “go crazy.” While companies seeking top level talent may be willing to put up with certain eccentricities for a proven commodity, the kind of genius that starts companies, or makes history, one imagines, doesn’t often relegate himself to the banalities of a nine to five, quotidian lifestyle of predictability, low risk, and routine.

Creative geniuses, in particular, are stereotyped as benignly insane. Artists such as Salvador Dali played up this role to their own benefit; others lived it to tragic extremes. Some see insanity as punishment for the audacity to live, or to think, or act, like gods; others see it as evidence of the regressive nature of cultures who make martyrs of their best and brightest.

Mental illness in the United States has undergone an effort since the early 1970s to destigmatize sufferers and create a more inclusive society for them to take part in.

After writing about why geniuses rock for the 38th issue of The Hollywood Sentinel, I continued to think about the topic, asking myself questions like: What is a genius, anyway? Do IQ tests “matter?” Is is dangerous to be a genius? Is genius born, or conditioned? What do I have to do to make the most of my own unique genius?

I came to the conclusion that the person who actively pursues accomplishments that would engender the term “genius” is by definition a risk taker. Talent and inborn intelligence are very important, but only when a gifted person combines their given advantages with hard work, persistence, planning and resilience to life’s invariable challenges does magic “happen.” In the arts, there are simply more talented people than there are movie stars, art stars, genius authors, musicians, and the like at the very top of their game. Being born into a certain family, anyone in Hollywood knows, can get you deals.

Motivational speaker Les Brown, who was told he was learning disabled but went on to become a successful multimillion dollar entrepreneur, says in the game of life, you might as well die on the playing field. That’s what life is about. Not how many other peoples’ movies you watched, but what the movie that plays inside your head says about you. Are you the star of your own movie?

How do you know you gave it all you’ve got if you don’t occasionally give it more than you had to begin with? This is a radical idea, and it’s not for everybody. But I’m going to say it anyway. If you haven’t, at some point, pushed yourself at least a little over the edge of insanity, maybe you haven’t pushed yourself far enough.

What are we all scared of? Oh, gosh, if I work too hard, I’ll have a nervous breakdown. If I’m too brutally honest, I’ll lose friends who don’t want to know what I really think of them. If I toot my own horn, people will call me a narcissist! Well, yes. Because you’ve done what Jim Rohn told you to do: You’ve walked away from the 99%. You’ve walked away from the 99.999%. You’ve claimed your own genius.

I would propose that most of society avoids dangerous thinking. Uncomfortable thinking is dangerous thinking, like talking about a round earth in the Middle Ages, or gender equality in the mid eighteenth century. The first man in space and the first woman to run a marathon had to be a tiny bit mad. So here’s to those who even attempt to do what they said couldn’t be done. Why do geniuses go mad? Well, it’s a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

Why Geniuses Rock

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.” Logan goes on to describe three types of genius. To read the rest of this article, visit The Hollywood Sentinel at the link below.