How our cultural conception of genius is skewed
Well done 👍
Popular culture is the measure of marketing; not intelligence or genius. You write something and want money for it? You better be writing to market, optimizing absolutely all aspects of it for the sale. Meanwhile, genius is looking elsewhere, which is why it may see things you don't (and get called crazy for taking the trouble to blab): no good deed goes unpunished. There are many forms of intelligence, polymaths master a few and contend for many. But intelligence isn't genius, though geniuses are intelligent, and often (not always!) polymaths. I really am a linguistic genius. So? Who cares? Like I want attention? By the way, I am an idiot at biology, ignorant, not stupid. "Popular imagination" well, the majority of people think they are of above average intelligence. Some of them are wrong. I'm unsure why you would want to define or measure intellectual breakthroughs such as discovery or deeply creative art of various forms by social perceptions, by the average opinions as opposed to expert opinion. I did enjoy your article but you seem to be missing the mark? Maybe there's a hidden agenda! Probably not. But the adventure of curiosity drives even stupid people. "All men, by nature, desire to know." Aristotle. He didn't mean "only the aristocrats" (whom he lauds) nor "no slaves" (A. believed in people slavish by nature). Even slaves desire to know, per Aristotle. So... if you wish to go after genius, creativity, discovery by the common measure you must tap into their innate curiosity. Which also sells product. Good luck.
You're incredibly perceptive. Great post.
At the moment Walt Disney is my favorite genius. (& since his brother Roy ran the company, maybe he qualifies as a business genius.) First, he was an animator and then a micro-managing supervisor of animators. All sorts of tech was created in Disney shops to support animation. Then he invented the theme park. He also pioneered live-action nature films. And he was an enormous propagandist for technology and the future.
At least in comics, the idea of the surprisingly ineffectual genius is an old enough trope to be well documented: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ReedRichardsIsUseless
I'm somewhat forgiving of fictional depictions of genius—writers cannot effectively write characters who are standard deviations smarter than they are. So they have to come up with some kind of shortcut to covey what they want to convey. There are a few "cheats" that are relatively common: a character having instant recall of esoteric facts, seeing a puzzle with a known (to the author) answer and getting there immediately, using technology that they invented (but never stop to explain) that's indistinguishable from magic, down to simple aesthetic elements like wearing glasses or a white lab coat.
The laziest and most annoying way to make a character seem smart is to either make everyone around them unusually dumb, or have everyone around them bringing up how smart they are. But this is just general bad tell-don't-show writing, common in fan fiction, and not exclusive to depictions of genius. (Much more common to use this method to try to make a character seem physically attractive than seem smart.)
There are better methods, though still not without limitations. If you keep yourself confined to the written word rather than audio/visual media, then you can depict a musical or artistic or architectural genius. The author can describe works without having to create them. This is much harder with business strategies or scientific theories.
You can think of a large number of examples for each of the above cheats, but I don't think that indicates that our culture has a misunderstanding of genius. Rather, I think it indicates that our culture has a large demand for stories about—or at least featuring—geniuses, and that writers fill that demand using the best tools available to them.
Geniuses also by their very nature change the world that they live in. Fictional works tend to be grounded in some kind of reality, so if your work is going to feature a genius, then that genius either needs to be focused on a particular area that isn't going to upset society's status quo (i.e. solving murder mysteries), lest the whole work necessarily become all about the change brought about by the genius and the implications of his discoveries, at which point it ceases to be whatever genre it was and becomes science fiction.
Great edition Rohit! One of the things while reading it that brought a smile of recognition to my face is how we as a culture and individuals within a group dilute the meaning of words like "genius". By not holding ourselves accountable to the sometimes precise meaning of a word we render what we say to be exaggerative. If I had $1 for the number of times people use superlatives [greatest, tallest, best, fastest] for generally average things, I would be... a thousandaire.🤓
Words should communicate something clear. When a person who you honored and respected, perhaps a challenging teacher said "Well Done", 2 simple words were all that was needed.
Well Done, Rohit🙏