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The Genius Complex

Genius isn’t rare, just rarely recognized.

Making the complex simple is genius. Doing it in a way that’s easy to explain is important.

I learned this recently when reading a scientific study: A little knowledge can be worse than none at all. By the second word, I was fact-checking myself and promising to understand in context as I read on.

Here it is:

Among amniote vertebrates, non-avian reptiles (chelonians, crocodilians, and lepidosaurs) are regarded as using vocal signals rarely (compared to birds and mammals).

Got it?

If you’re like me you might like to read it again to confirm your understanding, so here it is again:

Among amniote vertebrates, non-avian reptiles (chelonians, crocodilians, and lepidosaurs) are regarded as using vocal signals rarely (compared to birds and mammals).

I took the first three words and said, “Yes. I know some of these.” I kept reading, and by the time I got to “chelonians”, I knew I was going to be reading at least a few wikipedia pages (chelonians are turtles, tortoises, and terrapins, by the way).

My layman’s knowledge of science, my vocabulary, and my deductive capabilities combined as I pushed on through the Abstract, into the paper proper.

I’m going to break down this sentence as I understood it and then I’m going to make a point about being a genius.

My thoughts ran like this:

“Amniote must be referring to the amniotic sac or something related to that so ‘among amniote vertebrates’ means ‘among spined animals born from an embryo encased in amniotic fluid’. Good, I’m three words in and I am cruising.” 

By this point, .0003 seconds in, I was prepared to focus. “Lizards that don’t fly rarely make sounds like birds and mammals do.”

Putting it altogether looks like this:

“Of the spined animals born of embryos encased in amniotic fluid, lizards that aren’t related to birds don’t often make sounds as compared to birds and mammals.”

I had to look up so many different words and concepts just to describe something

in a worse way. It wasn’t even totally correct: I learned what an amniotic membrane and fluid are, I learned about phylogeny and Linnaean classification, I learned that I’m a ridiculously slow reader. In numerous ways, I can be less intelligent than a middle schooler. 

I am not offended by my ignorance, I expect to not know everything. I appreciate learning new things, whether it’s a fact about ancient Roman concrete or reading about how to be a saintly and wise leader, it’s in my repertoire for a reason.

Whether it’s a client you’re talking to, a random person at the supermarket, or a new love interest: Be interested. It’s a simple message but it’s different from the sum of its parts. It means actually giving time and effort to fit the uncontrollable into your life, and making good use of what comes from it. 

Do as the wise do: accrue wisdom everyday, everywhere. From others, learn what to do and, just as importantly, what not to do. Genius is in how you adapt that knowledge to your situation.

See the bigger picture, how every cell in this system works, and do everything you can to discover what you don’t know. The unknown will challenge you and overcoming it will increase your mental agility. 

Sometimes, what you know helps you learn in context and sometimes you’re going to have more than a few wikipedia pages to read.


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