Posted by: Brad Stanford | February 15, 2014

Maybe Genius Is Also Localized

I was listening to John Ronz’s presentation about how he became the airfoil designer for Burt Rutan:

…and he was talking about how he built his first computer from a Heathkit, then he built his second from the ground up. I realized that he was not just an amazing airfoil designer, but he was a brilliant man who happened to enjoy designing airfoils. Had he chosen to start an Apple Computer, he could have, but it was not his passion. Airplanes were, and are.

But I realized as well, that this is how things start. There is the global genius – like a Ronz, a Wozniak, a Musk – who seems to have the capacity to be good at anything, and sometimes pursues everything as a result. This gives the rest of us the idea that major accomplishment is a possibility only for those who are in tune with information, who seem to understand it all. To this concept we (rightly) apply the word genius.

But I believe, too, that there is a different kind of genius. This person might be completely idiotic in all other walks of life, but there is one localized subject in which this person lives, and is the resident genius of it, even more so than the aforementioned global genius could ever be. The localized genius knows one thing, but knows it in a transcendent way, rather than a mechanical, comprehensive one.

While we need the global genius to be the Starter Of Great Things™, it will be the localized genii who manage to maintain the inertia of what was started, taking it from amazing and new to expected and normal.

The trouble is that while global genii can be popular (think Tony Stark), localized genii are weird by definition. While everyone is focused on being well-rounded individuals, protecting themselves from physical and social risks, the local genii are the exact opposite. They are completely imbalanced, opinionated, risk-takers, and boat-rockers, not caring about reputation as much as discovery or mastery.

Yet, without them, the stable people would not have phones, airplanes, TVs, and indoor plumbing. Innovation does not come from comfortable minions, but uncomfortable people who think about nonsense.

The next time you meet someone who is socially awkward and talks for hours about one subject, file away that you’re possibly in the presence of a localized genius. That doesn’t make them any less awkward or annoying, but it might help you handle the encounter with less judgment and more appreciation.

In the long run, raising up our localized genii (instead of belittling them) will certainly make the world a better place.



  1. Excellent point Reshaping how we perceive people and recognizing their contribution(s) to the world are vital. Keep up the good work. I enjoy following you.


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