What Kind of Genius Are You? ...
By Daniel H. Pink
Photo by Darren Braun
In the fall of 1972, when David Galenson was a senioreconomics major at Harvard, he took what he describes as a “gut” coursein 17th-century Dutch art. On the first day of class, the professordisplayed a stunning image of a Renaissance Madonna and child. “PabloPicasso did this copy of a Raphael drawing when he was 17 years old,”the professor told the students. “What have you people done lately?”It’s a question we all ask ourselves. What have we done lately? Itrattles us each birthday. It surfaces whenever an upstarttwentysomething pens a game-changing novel or a 30-year-old techentrepreneur becomes a billionaire. The question nagged at Galenson foryears. In graduate school, he watched brash colleagues writedissertations that earned them quick acclaim and instant tenure, whilehe sat in the library meticulously tabulating 17th- and 18th-centuryindentured-servitude records. He eventually found a spot on theUniversity of Chicago’s Nobelist-studded economics faculty, but not asa big-name theorist. He was a colonial economic historian – a utilityinfielder on a team of Hall of Famers.
Now, however, Galenson might have done something at last, somethingthat could provide hope for legions of late bloomers everywhere.Beavering away in his sunny second-floor office on campus, he hasscoured the records of art auctions, counted entries in poetryanthologies, tallied images in art history textbooks – and then slicedand diced the numbers with his econometric ginsu knife. Applying thefiercely analytic, quantitative tools of modern economics, he hasreverse engineered ingenuity to reveal the source code of the creativemind.
What he has found is that genius – whether in art or architecture oreven business – is not the sole province of 17-year-old Picassos and22-year-old Andreessens. Instead, it comes in two very different forms,embodied by two very different types of people. “Conceptualinnovators,” as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in theirdisciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. ThinkEdvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest ofus feel like also-rans. Then there’s a second character type, someonewho’s just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson callsthis group “experimental innovators.” Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, MarkTwain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and errorand thus do their important work much later in their careers. Galensonmaintains that this duality – conceptualists are from Mars,experimentalists are from Venus – is the core of the creative process.And it applies to virtually every field of intellectual endeavor, frompainters and poets to economists.
After a decade of number crunching, Galenson, at the not-so-tenderage of 55, has fashioned something audacious and controversial: aunified field theory of creativity. Not bad for a middle-aged guy. Whathave you done lately?
Read more of this fascinating "must-read" article at WIRED.com HERE.