Many of us are familiar with this quote by Albert Einstein:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
This quote tells us that genius is not a two-dimensional ideal. It’s not something finite––a measurable substance that we’re either born with or aren’t. Rather, genius is a multi-faceted, organic, and flexible part of our innate capabilities. It can be defined, trained, honed. And once we unlock our genius type, we can work towards embracing this inner strength to push us beyonds the limits of what we thought we were capable of.
Before we explore what the different types of genius are, we need to dispel the mythology behind our understanding of the word. Genius is typically associated with high IQ. Stephen Hawking, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein are all examples of incredibly smart people. But genius isn’t isolated to IQ alone. In fact, researchers and scientists are discovering numerous ways that genius should be defined.
Why Understanding Genius Matters
There are any number of ways to define genius. However, when exploring the history and genesis of the concept, we find common threads through cultures and philosophies dating back thousands of years. Because of these commonalities, it’s generally agreed that there are four types of genius.
Understanding these four types can help reduce stress levels for several reasons. First, when we understand ourselves, we can better manage the way we handle projects big and small in all areas of our life. Second, no matter who we work with — whether we simply have to tolerate a myriad of co-workers or manage a team — being able to identify how people work best is always going to be an asset. Finally, when it comes to our interpersonal skills, our relationships ranging from friends to spouses will only flourish if we are able to understand our own approach to life while being aware of their own unique strengths.
This philosophy is especially prevalent when it comes to our children. Raising them so they understand themselves is one of the biggest gifts any parent can give. By being able to cultivate their awareness and grasp on their own innate skillset, we can help them prepare for a world that requires them to be flexible. Even more, learning how to tackle stressful and difficult situations within their genius type will instill confidence that they can solve problems in their unique way.
That isn’t to say figuring out which genius type fits is going to solve all of life’s problems. It isn’t and it won’t. But it’s vital to understand that it isn’t the subject we’re dealing with that is difficult, but our approach to solving the subject. And that’s where understanding genius type can be of enormous help.
Dynamos are typically the big picture creatives. They thrive on coming up with new ideas. Their enthusiasm for a new project is contagious and they frequently look at situations in fresh, innovative ways. We see this type of genius emerge in tech leaders like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They are adept at seeing the possibilities and bringing them to life. Of course, they can also seem to have their head in the clouds, their thoughts wandering instead of paying attention to the task at hand.
While their strength is in the ideas, they tend to fall short when it comes to the details. Albert Einstein, also a dynamo, made multiple mistakes in his equations––even in his most famous E = mc². When working with or educating a dynamo, it’s important to remember they need help with details and keeping them focused on the task at hand.
Taken as a whole, dynamos are fantastic at creation and their energy will come to life when given tasks allowing this natural tendency to shine. They’ll need help with time-management and in making sure details don’t slip through the cracks, but if they are encouraged to continue creating and innovating, dynamos will accomplish spectacular feats. Dynamos are best when their focus is “what”.
Blaze geniuses are leaders. They tend to be highly charismatic and their strength is in connections. These are the people who bring teams together, not simply because they are likable, but because they can identify the strengths in others and put them to work towards their goals.
Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton are blazes at work, and the teams they build are unstoppable. Blaze geniuses learn through talking, so while it may seem like idle chatter to some, to blazes, this is how they problem-solve. They also need projects to be fun and hate mundanity. Variety, in both subjects and locations, are the essence of the blaze genius.
Since the blaze genius will struggle with tedious tasks, allowing them some freedom in either being able to walk around the office or move within the class environment will help them feel unobstructed. And while they can’t disrupt meetings or lectures, ensuring that one-on-one time is more of a free-flow conversation can ensure the blaze brings their A-game to any situation. Blazes are best when their focus is “who”.
Slow and steady wins the race is an apt way to describe individuals with tempo genius. They are grounded, focused on the task at hand until they understand it or are ready to make a decision. Preferring a step-by-step approach, these are the people who will meet their deadlines no matter how long it takes or what obstacles stand in their way — and they’ll ensure the entire team stays focused as well.
Tempos learn best hands-on and don’t do well with pressure. They prefer to take their time, being sure the details are correct before moving on. Michael Phelps and Warren Buffet are examples of the tempo genius at work. They focus on their goals, taking a logical and methodical approach to success.
For all their focus, the tempo will struggle when given open-ended or creative tasks. They prefer to work on the steps of an already constructed plan to solve problems instead of envisioning how to come up with the plan. Pairing them with a dynamo on creative projects will lead to each of them being able to showcase and embrace their strengths. Otherwise, these are the workers and students who want the assignment and the due date so they can get to work. Tempos are best when their focus is “when”.
The steel and the tempo are both detail oriented and meticulous. But where the tempo still does well within a hands-on group, the steel genius prefers to work alone. They learn through reading and love absorbing as much information as possible. Steels want to understand the mechanics of everything.
Their need to understand how things work can often lead to them taking too much time to finish tasks — even tasks that should be simple for them. They are fastidious with the details, making sure that everything is correct. Pressure to finish things in tight time-frames can cause a steel to shut down and are at risk for not finishing projects as they have difficulty rushing through the process.
Whenever possible, giving steel geniuses work they can accomplish on their own within their own timeframes is ideal. However, as this isn’t always possible, helping them learn to work within a team will be their biggest area for growth. Their knowledge and skills will bring deep understanding to any project, making them as asset, especially when finite knowledge is required, but they will need help in working within that team dynamic. Steels are best when their focus is “how”.
Genius is not a single description of who we are. It doesn’t tell us how smart we are. Instead, figuring out our own genius type tells us how we are smart. We all have genius inside us, waiting to be embraced and implemented in our daily lives. And once we know how to embrace our own type of genius, we are well on our way to becoming limitless.