Try to catch the recent arti­cle by Daisy Yuhas in a spe­cial issue of Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can devot­ed to the sub­ject of “genius”. That’s a word that’s tossed around a great deal. Some, at least, define what they mean by the term and put forth real names. For exam­ple, Smash­ing Tops once pub­lished a list that defined a genius as “a per­son who proves to be very intel­li­gent or to have a tal­ent that allows him or her to cre­ate some­thing orig­i­nal that is unan­i­mous­ly con­sid­ered excep­tion­al.” The site lists Avram Noam Chom­sky, Mar­garet Car­ol Turn­bull and Phillip Glass in its top 10 list of “liv­ing genius­es”, although Steven Jobs has sad­ly passed away.

In her report, Daisy Yuhas adds anoth­er dimen­sion. When it comes to genius, she says, “tal­ent mat­ters, but moti­va­tion may mat­ter more”. In oth­er words, smart and moti­vat­ed is bet­ter than just smart. I agree.

Yuhas high­lights some deep aca­d­e­m­ic stud­ies that sup­port her idea that “psy­chol­o­gists have iden­ti­fied three crit­i­cal ele­ments that sup­port moti­va­tion, all of which you can tweak to your ben­e­fit”: auton­o­my, val­ues and com­pe­tence. In a nut­shell, peo­ple with a great deal of tal­ent will more like­ly excel to the per­for­mance of a genius if they (a) feel in charge of the sit­u­a­tion, (b) are work­ing on some­thing that sup­ports or advances their per­son­al beliefs, and © feel ful­ly capa­ble of achiev­ing the goal they have to meet.

Here’s one quick exam­ple that I’d like to cite from her arti­cle:

In 2009 Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia psy­chol­o­gist Christo­pher S. Hulle­man described a semes­ter-long inter­ven­tion in which one group of high school stu­dents wrote about how sci­ence relat­ed to their lives and anoth­er group sim­ply sum­ma­rized what they had learned in sci­ence class. The most strik­ing results came from stu­dents with low expec­ta­tions of their per­for­mance. Those who described the impor­tance of sci­ence in their lives improved their grades more and report­ed greater inter­est than sim­i­lar stu­dents in the sum­ma­ry-writ­ing group. In short, reflect­ing on why an activ­i­ty is mean­ing­ful could make you more invest­ed in it.

Finding Genius

Devel­op­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty fore­sense is as much a func­tion of indi­vid­ual mind­set (and col­lec­tive mind­set, or cul­ture) as it is of extrin­sic incen­tives like bonus­es, which are all too often the pre­ferred tools of lead­ers try­ing to jump-start growth and com­pet­i­tive­ness — usu­al­ly in the short run (this quar­ter, this half, or this year). Build­ing entre­pre­neur­ial mind­ed­ness takes time and large­ly “comes from with­in” and there­fore must be enabled by organ­i­sa­tions and their lead­ers by build­ing and sus­tain­ing the con­tex­tu­al (and intrin­sic) incen­tives that are both affec­tive and can be last­ing.

Nextsens­ing is easy to turn off (kill incen­tives) and dif­fi­cult to turn on/rekindle if it is lack­ing in indi­vid­u­als or organ­i­sa­tions. Many times it is about get­ting the right kind of tal­ent in place and then get­ting out of their way so they can get on with it, and by pro­vid­ing appro­pri­ate mis­sion crit­i­cal para­me­ters for their efforts rather than imple­ment­ing a con­trol­ling rules based set of pro­ce­dures with finan­cial incen­tives attached when com­pli­ance is demon­strat­ed.

Sus­tained moti­va­tion is a crit­i­cal ingre­di­ent to “find­ing your next”, and intrin­sic moti­va­tion seems to be a key. Unlike extrin­sic moti­va­tions (mon­e­tary bonus­es) that work well for accom­plish­ing a well-defined or a repet­i­tive task, intrin­sic moti­va­tions such as auton­o­my (I do not need to be man­aged through this), pur­pose (there is some­thing larg­er than me and more impor­tant than mon­ey) and val­ues and beliefs (I stand for some­thing) are key to sus­tained moti­va­tion and are there­fore crit­i­cal to over­com­ing the obsta­cles asso­ci­at­ed with dis­rup­tive ambi­gu­i­ty.

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