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Are You Ready To Unleash Your Genius?

The answers to this question included - Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Dhirubhai Ambani, Elon Musk, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Michael Jordan, Sachin Tendulkar, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Warren Buffett

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I recently asked two questions to my family and friends. My first question was, "Can you name a genius?" The answers to this question included - Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Dhirubhai Ambani, Elon Musk, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Michael Jordan, Sachin Tendulkar, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Warren Buffett.

However, my second question, "What's your genius?" generated confused looks.

You see, the word "genius" traces its roots to ancient Rome. The Romans believed that everyone was born with a guardian spirit present from birth. Because this spirit was born with the person, it was called a "genius" (from the Latin verb gignere which literally means "to give birth or bring forth"). Consequently, in ancient times, if a person had a unique talent or ability, it was believed that this was due to their "genius." In the medieval era, the word "genius" evolved from describing the spirit that inspired a talent (a person's natural ability) to the talent itself. And in modern times, the word "genius" further evolved so that it was now applied to the person who displayed the remarkable talent. In other words, instead of describing someone as "having a genius" (a unique talent) we began describing an individual as "being a genius."

So a way to rephrase my question would be, "What are your unique talents?"
Let me illustrate this by sharing a real-world example. In the 1990s, I was living in Chicago when Michael Jordan, whom the legendary basketball player, Larry Bird, had called "God disguised as Michael Jordan," was playing for the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan's game was spectacular, especially his slam dunks from the free throw line, and his patented fade away shot earning him the nicknames Air Jordan and His Airness. In fact, a Time magazine story captured the essence of his game, "Michael Jordan Can't Actually Fly, But the Way He Gyrates and Orbits on a Basketball Court, Driven by fierce competitiveness, it sure looks that way."

It was no surprise then that Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to a three-peat NBA championship run from 1991-93. Then Jordan did something that left everyone stunned. In 1993, at the top of his basketball career, he abruptly retired from basketball to go pursue a career in baseball. Jordan brought his legendary work ethic to baseball, practiced hard, and after a year of trying in the minor leagues, still hadn't made it as a baseball star.

Fortunately (for us Bulls fans), in early 1995, Michael Jordan quit baseball, made a U-turn and announced his return to the Chicago Bulls through a two-word press release, "I'm back."

Although he had not played a basketball match for over a year and a half, Jordan was able to get back into the groove right away, with high scoring points, and game-winning jump shots. It was almost as if he'd never left. And he went on to lead the Chicago Bulls to yet another three-peat as NBA champions from 1996-98.

It may be helpful to deconstruct Michael Jordan's journey by looking at four different labels - knowledge, skills, genius, strength.

Knowledge is the content - for example, the rules and regulations of the sport - whether it's basketball, baseball, cricket; or the syntax, data, control structures for a computer programming language. It can be acquired.

Skills are the "how to" aspect of a role. Therefore, the more time and effort you put in, the faster you'll master the skill. Skills can be developed through practice.

The interesting insight about knowledge and skills is that they'll prove most valuable when they are combined with talent.

Genius (your unique talent), unlike knowledge and skills - which can be learned, is innate. Talent is often described as a special natural ability or aptitude. Talent is the natural predisposition that makes each of us particularly effective. The author, Tom Rath (StrengthFinder 2.0) defines talent as "any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior" that can be productively applied. For example, if you have a constant need for achievement, that's a talent. If you like to take charge and bring order to chaos by issuing commands, that's a talent. If you are instinctively competitive, that's a talent. If you are naturally inquisitive and love to learn, that's a talent. If you are responsible, that's a talent. In the case of Michael Jordan, his drive and competitive streak on the basketball court is a talent.

Finally, a strength is what you can do consistently and nearly perfectly. Strengths are activities that are energizing; that you're naturally drawn toward; and consequently, often end up being activities where you deliver your best output. A strength is any activity that makes you feel strong. Conversely, a weakness is any activity that leaves you feeling weaker after you do it - an activity that bores you, frustrates you, or drains you.

The relationship between these can be expressed as follows, KNOWLEDGE + SKILLS (the time that you invest in acquiring knowledge and practicing/developing skills)
X GENIUS (Innate talent - your recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior) = SUCCESS by playing to your STRENGTHS (your ability to do things consistently and near-perfectly)

The important point is that hard work matters, because that's what will help you develop your knowledge and skills. Michael Jordan explained his secret, "I can't take it easy in practices and then expect myself to just turn it on in the games. I have to turn it on in practice if it's going to be there in games. And the reason that I'm at that level is because I practice harder and do all the things necessary to put myself at that level."

However, for your hard work and effort to have a multiplier effect, you'll need to be working in areas where you have a genius - your innate talent. And that explains why Michael Jordan was so successful on the basketball court. Conversely, absent the genius for baseball, no amount of hard work could compensate for it.

I believe that you will be your most creative, most effective, most productive, most resilient, and successful when you figure out how to harness your genius and play to your strengths. The first step is to identify your genius (your innate talent), name it, own it, respect it, and hone it with knowledge and skills.

Take Two: So, tell me, "what's your genius?"

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Raj Biyani

Raj Biyani is the former managing director of Microsoft IT India.

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