As the world says its collective “farewell” to Prince Rogers Nelson, I thought that I would take a moment to reflect on the word “genius”…both its definition and the use of the word as a title.
While open to some interpretation, the word “genius” has a definition that’s simple enough:
“A very smart or talented person; a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable.”
If you’re a medical doctor, then you might recognize that the definition above suffers from the same challenge that the definitions for many diseases do: That is, it is a description of the symptoms of a malady…not the actual malady itself. In the same way, I can easily describe the “symptoms” of genius without having a clue about the biological/social underpinnings of genius…is it genetics? Is it environment? Both? Neither? Does it even matter what “causes” genius???
So while we are clueless about the causes of genius (side bar: for an interesting – and perhaps a bit whimsical – take on this subject, I would encourage you to read/listen to Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle”) we sure as hell seem to know it when we see it…usually.
Indeed, we as a species have bestowed the title “genius” on a number of people throughout history: Einstein, Mozart, Curie, Newton, Shakespeare, da Vinci, Plato and so on. I mentioned that we “usually” recognize genius when we see it because there have many notable exceptions to this rule throughout history:
- Melville’s “Moby Dick” was anything BUT a success during his lifetime
- Galileo was not an unknown during his lifetime but his genius certainly was NOT fully appreciated until well after his death
- van Gogh really was an unknown during his lifetime and it was not until just after his death that anyone began appreciating his numerous works of art
Regardless of whether their genius was recognized in their lifetime, though, all of the geniuses mentioned above have one thing in common: That is, they were incredibly prolific in their chosen areas of work/interest. Genius for each of these people – and for any “genius” worthy of that title – was a TON of work thus proving Edison’s often quoted statement:
“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
I think the point that I would make here is that while many geniuses were gifted with the genetics or social environments that enhanced their opportunities for success, they’re true genius was in their unwavering commitment to improving their mastery in their chosen fields…not to simply rest on the laurels of their genetic/social gifts.
Bringing this post full circle back around to Prince…the word “prolific” doesn’t even begin to cover his body of work. Not only did he produce many, many, MANY songs for himself (often playing ALL of the instruments for a given song) but he also wrote and produced songs for countless OTHER singers/bands as well! His influence on fashion and culture literally cannot be measured.
Bottom line: Prince’s life (along with a great many other geniuses that I admire) reminds me that although our lives are “short” that we’ve been given ample time to achieve some extraordinary things if we bother taking the time to tap into our own “inner genius.”
Note: Lest this post be written off as a simple “I love Prince eulogy”…I would highlight that Prince was definitely NOT perfect. Indeed, like most geniuses he was just a wee bit crazy and Prince’s “craziness” has been documented better than most, though, thankfully, he never cut off his own ear!