“Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.” This quote from Arthur Schopenhauer (by way of global futurist and trend analyst Mary O’Hara-Devereaux) fits many of the people we think of as geniuses. Steve Jobs, for one, clearly fills the bill. It is easy to see genius in hindsight, of course, and much harder to identify it as it develops in organizations. How do you know who qualifies as “talent” and who as “genius”? Once you identify these people, how do you inspire them? Should they be treated differently from others in the organization?
The stakes are high. The world is changing so fast and so dramatically that it takes great talent—and at times genius—just to stay ahead of the curve. Only organizations that identify, inspire, develop, and support genius can thrive in such a world. Especially if your targets are game changers for you or your industry, overlooking the need for genius is not an option.
The first step is to define what genius is in the context of your organization. Many definitions revolve around the quality of thinking that operates on an entirely different plane from even the cutting edge. Talent implies extraordinary skill or knowledge in an existing sphere, while genius transcends the sphere entirely: not just out-of-the-box thinking, but out-of-the-known-world thinking. Developing a smart phone with new features requires talent; envisioning the need for the iPad—let alone creating the iPad—required genius.
How do we identify genius in our organizations? I believe many aspects of inclusion—particularly the notion of our organization’s Inclusion as the HOW—is a key. (By Inclusion as the HOW, I mean inclusion as a way of life that underpins everything the organization does, accelerating results and achieving higher performance.)
Identifying genius, especially in large organizations, calls for an element that we call “the Four Corners Breakthrough.” Named for the police procedure of interviewing witnesses from every street corner of an accident scene, Four Corners Breakthrough draws on the diverse perspectives of everyone connected with an issue—not just senior leaders, but people of different roles, functions, levels, experiences, backgrounds, and other parameters—to gather information and insight on the many unknown factors that affect the issue or cause a certain result.
The location of genius in organizations often qualifies as an unknown. Senior leaders, to whom many organizations have traditionally turned for the answer to every problem, cannot possibly know every person of talent or genius in their organizations. But when many individuals are asked to identify such people, it will result in a much longer list of people whose abilities can propel the organization forward.
Inclusion as the HOW also addresses the question of special treatment for people of genius in the organization. Treating different groups of people in different ways, especially preferential ways, makes those outside the groups feel excluded and less important. In contrast, Inclusion as the HOW makes all people feel valued, heard, and seen for who they are and what they can contribute. No special treatment is needed for those identified with genius. Inclusion inspires and supports them to do their best work—in a way that works for them and benefits the organization—just as it inspires and supports all others in the same way.
Two other reflections on Schopenhauer’s quote deserve attention. The “target that no one else can see” does not have to be something entirely game- or category-changing. It can be, for instance, a process breakthrough that only someone on the shop floor, who works with the process every day, can imagine. When people feel included and their contributions valued, they are more likely to offer their ideas, including those that address “targets no one else can see.”
Finally, genius often resides in the group itself. Increasingly, crowds are becoming places to tackle complex, multifaceted problems, with each person bringing his street corner, or perspective, to the collective. Out of the crowd, the picture of “the target no one else can see” often emerges, enabling the organization to hit it.
Genius deserves to be seen and heard. So does everyone in the organization. Organizations can foster breakthroughs from all people—and leverage them for accelerated results.
Judith H. Katz and Frederick A. Miller, “Inclusion: the HOW for the Next Organizational Breakthrough,” in William J. Rothwell, Jacqueline M. Stavros, Roland L. Sullivan, and Arielle Sullivan, eds., Practicing Organization Development: A Guide for Leading Change, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Wiley/Pfeiffer, 2010).
Judith H. Katz and Frederick A. Miller, “The Four Corners Breakthrough: A Key to the Future” (2010).
© 2012 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.