The Difference Between Talent and Genius

MemoirsMagic is a word that falls short of explaining the difference between the artisan who is wildly talented in his craft versus the person that is a genius in that same craft. Yet we can understand that Michael Jordan was a genius on the basketball court and Beethoven was a genius in the concert hall.

German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer found the distinction between talent and genius easy to delineate.

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

American Novelist Jack Kerouac, a writer who felt he had nothing to offer but his own confusion, found the roles between talent and genius clear.

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers.”

The difference between the two elements that rise from deep within the artist does not separate him from the pains that all artisans experience. Jan Swafford shared in Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, his tragic and triumphant genius that made him an outsider. She stated that he was “utterly sure of himself and his gift, but no less self-critical and without sentimentality concerning his work.”

Swafford also shared her perspective on talent versus genius:

“Genius is something that lies on the other side of talent… Talent is largely inborn, and in a given field some people have it to a far higher degree than others. Still, in the end talent is not enough to push you to the highest achievements. Genius has to be founded on major talent, but it adds a freshness and wildness of imagination, a raging ambition, and unusual gift for learning and growing, a depth and breadth of thought and spirit, an ability to make use of not only your strengths but also your weaknesses, an ability to astonish not only your audience but yourself.”

Being self-aware, Beethoven described genius in his letter to Emilie:

“The true artist has no pride. He sees unfortunately that art has no limits; he has a vague awareness of how far he is from reaching his goal; and while others may perhaps admire him, he laments the fact that he has not yet reached the point whither his better genius only lights the way for him like a distant sun.”

Skills are taught and will accompany inborn talent, but genius is that elusive element that births the wow factor. Genius is not learned. It is what I describe as a supernatural gift that allows the artisan to create things that no one else considers. It gives him a vantage point on life that no one else can see without him manifesting it within his art.

A good example might be the author who gets writer’s block. He may be a skilled writer, but the talented continue to play with words until the story comes together. The talented has several books inside of him waiting to come out, but the genius has an unlimited supply of stories to share for his lifetime.

© 2017 by CJ Powers
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The Misunderstood Creative (pt. 1)

yard saleI get tired of being misunderstood. My sister aptly put it, “You think the exact opposite way of me.” Of course, she said this after being surprised that I did something counter intuitive to what she would’ve done. The thing I found the most amusing was the look of surprise on her face.

Since she knows that I think differently, I’m still trying to figure out why she always assumes that I’d respond in the same way she does. The juxtaposition of her thoughts and comments makes me wonder if the people who misunderstand me are subconsciously trying to stick me into a box that makes them feel comfortable.

Neurologists have confirmed in numerous studies that highly creative people think and act differently than the average person. One white paper was clear that the brain is physically wired differently. I’ve been told that 1 in 10,000 people are highly creative, but I haven’t heard how many of those people are in a position to create something that impacts our society.

The numbers are staggering and suggest that most people don’t even know a highly creative person, especially since the creatives tend to clump together in the arts. Out of those who do know one, those who also love them have probably experienced moments when they seem to be living in a completely different world, which they do.

The key is that trying to change them or fit them into a box that’s comfortable for the average person only creates problems. Instead, the average person is better off trying to understand them. Here are a few ideas that can help bring understanding to the thoughts and actions of the misunderstood creative.

1. Watch the Wheels Turn. Friends from time to time ask me the question, “Don’t you ever give your mind a rest?” Whenever they look at me they can see the gears in my mind grinding away on some creative notion or perspective.

Even while I’m typing this blog I’m contemplating how to help an automotive firm win a marketplace ethics award for 2018. The wheels rarely stop, but they do slow down at times. It’s something people close to a creative should always remember.

2. Always Asking “What If?” The creative is curious. If he asks you a question its typically to learn, not to make a point or to test your resolve. The more information a creative collects, the more likely he is able to come up with something new for society.

Unfortunately the creative’s friends sometimes think they’re under interrogation, but in reality the creative respects them enough to ask lots of questions. By asking “what if” type questions, the creative easily shifts his perspective to many different angles, which gives way to new unique solutions.

I once attended a think tank meeting with 25 creative people at a Fortune 50 company. Our task was to come up with 100 ways a specific invention could be used. Within the first 60 seconds many people came up with two-dozen ideas. By the end of five minutes several people had exhausted their ideas with about 40 – 50 solutions. I had filled in all 100 slots on my paper and asked, “What if the paper had 200 slots on it?” I started to write in the margins.

3. Embracing Their Genius. Creatives tend to embrace who they are more than being understood. Staying true to oneself for the sake of integrity always outweighs the bling or offers associated with compromise. In fact, they are so focused on being who they are that they seldom climb into the box others suggest will help them in life—most don’t even realize the box is being offered.

Two years ago I was given an opportunity to make a faith-based film and I turned it down. People thought I was nuts for not compromising so I could make a theatrical picture. The problem was that I know what kinds of stories resonate with me and those are the stories I want to make. Anything else wouldn’t be in keeping with who I am.

4. Follow the Flow. Projects seem to ebb and flow with creatives. Big gaps in efforts seem to happen out of the blue followed by almost manic surges of incredible brilliance. This isn’t because the creative is bipolar. Creatives incubate their ideas in a way that cause most people to think they are inactive—forgetting that they think differently with gears that never stop.

When my kids were growing up, we found ourselves standing in a long line waiting for food. A comment about being bored came up. I pointed out that life was not boring, there are only boring people. The kids quickly learned how to fill their waiting in line time with creative and fun thoughts. To the average person, my kids were well behaved and standing in line quietly, while my kids were actually on great adventures.

5. Quiet Time. No matter how extroverted the creative is he still needs some quiet time alone. This helps him recharge his batteries and bounce back with more energy than before—filled with new innovative ideas.

Every time I came home from Walt Disney World (WDW) my family could tell where my business trip had taken me. WDW is one place on earth that refills my creativity and I come home with hundreds of great ideas. It’s a place that amps up my creative juices and allows me to freely flow through and past ideas that no one has ever shared before.

This coupled with a need to have a quiet Saturday morning for recharging from the day to day, gives me a new lease on life with a fresh new perspective. The idea of being bathed in creative freedom is inspirational to my soul. And, this creativity blooms all the more on a movie set. Oh, I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you it is positively true.

(Click Here to Read Part 2)

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Labeling the Creative

LabelLabels are dreadful, even the good ones. All too often people try to categorize what they don’t understand, as if it will bring a sense of security where its not needed. The creative spirit is allusive to many and requires a label from the logical to understand why a person is unconventional.

I’ve been called unique, weird, innovative, imaginative and creative. Each label was an attempt on the person’s part to categorize me into something close to what they understand. They’re uncomfortable with me not living life in what they believe to be an appropriate manner – A lifestyle based on logic.

Most get away with slapping a label on a creative because the majority of people require the same. I’ve read estimates that there is one creative person for every 10,000 logical people. That means for every motion picture cast and crew of 300 people, there are 3 million who don’t have a clue how to relate with those creatives. However, not knowing how to interact with a creative doesn’t stop the 3 million from enjoying their film.

The good news is that most creatives have had to learn how to relate to their audiences and investors in a logical fashion. Since the creative is capable of living in both worlds, at least for a time, the one looking for fans and funds bridges the gap.

This dynamic relationship drives a certain level of fandom based solely on the unknown. Every performance or released product appears to be all the more entertaining as the creative gives fans glimpses into their soul – The most rewarding form of story.

After reading a heartwarming story, one person told me the author had talent or the ability to achieve what others cannot achieve. His friend politely disagreed and argued that the author was a genius, as defined by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His writings suggested that genius rises from a superior capacity for contemplation that leads the artist to transcend the smallness of ego and enter the infinite world of ideas.

I suggested that the cautionary tale of artistry was the person who isn’t truly creative, but puts on the appearance of the artist. He can notably get stuck in his own ego based on the rise of fandom. However, the true creative continues to create regardless of those who appreciate his creative bent.

I’m not suggesting that all creatives are naturally humble, but the ones I’ve met create because of who they are, not how many fans they obtain. The creative flourishes during the time people notice his work and during the time no one takes notice.

Schopenhauer said, “The man in whom genius lives and works is easily distinguished by his glance, which is both keen and steady, and bears the stamp of perception, of contemplation.”

There may be a parallel in how my friends argued about genius and my perspective of artistry. I define a creative as someone who observes and contemplates the very perceptions he has acquired, in order to reduce it to a medium for public consumption. Genius or not, there’s no room for ego or labels with the artist, as he must move from philosophies to thoughts, spreading the life changing ideas the public is so hungry to receive.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers