Could You Be a Creative Genius?

Not every genius is so obvious.

By Kevin RR Williams

EDUCATION When someone aces an SAT or invents something that affects the entire world (hopefully for the good), he might be considered a genius. A person who has a significant impact on world peace could become a Nobel Price Laureate. But you don’t have to be Bill Gates or Albert Einstein to be a genius.

The stereotypical genius is a mathematics nerd. Daniel Tammet of England can do lightning-fast mathematical calculations in his head. However, as a [genius] savant, the compulsion to count everything precludes Tammet from driving or even walking on the beach. Unlike Tammet, geniuses are usually capable of living independently. So the term “genius savant” is a misnomer.

The CBS television show Scorpion has a cast of geniuses. Each character is really good at mathematics, augmented by another specific skill set. The noun, “genius” means, “exceptional or creative power or other natural ability.” This can take in chefs, mathematicians, programmers, engineers, scientists, authors, artists and musicians.

Could You Be a Creative Genius?

How Does It Add Up?

Intelligence quotient (IQ) was originally devised by the German psychologist William Stern in 1912 for measuring children. The bell-curve scoring of modern IQ tests such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is now based on standard scoring of the subject's rank order on the test content with the median score set to 100, and a standard deviation of 15 points. Other tests may assign different standard deviations.

Three-year-old Alexis Martin, with an IQ north of 160, is a member of Mensa.

The typical person is unaware of his IQ. In theory, a genius is a gifted individual with an IQ of at least 130. The problem is that online tests for measuring IQ are inconsistent; they can be somewhat lengthy and may conclude by charging a fee for the results. By one test I met the genius threshold. In others, I missed the mark a bit. The scores are meaningless unless obtained from a valid, standardized IQ test administered by a professional. Measuring 130+ on such a test could qualify for Mensa membership.

Classification IQ Range %
Highly gifted 140+ 0.4%
Gifted (Mensa) 130+ 2%
International High IQ Society membership 124+ 5%
High 115–129 15%
High average 110–115 15%
Average 90–109 50%
Low average 85–89 23%
Borderline 70–79 8%

It is fascinating to me how people calculate the IQ of notable persons postmortem. In some cases this is done with neuroimaging. In other cases, it appears to be an educated guess based upon the known lifetime accomplishments. Leonardo da Vinci is estimated to have had an IQ of 220; Sir Isaac Newton, 190; Charles Dickens, 180; Albert Einstein, 160.

Characteristics of Geniuses

Many feel that extensive education is a prerequisite to genius. For example, a musician might be considered such if he or she also attended an Ivy League school. Nevertheless, some geniuses drop out of school. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elizabeth Holmes are noteworthy examples. Is it possible that you could unknowingly be a genius? Examine some of the characteristics.

Creative. Artists and geniuses possess the ability to process abstract thinking effectively. Individuals possessing higher intelligence learn how to express themselves in abstract ways such as through pictures, poetry or music. Mathematicians frequently mark up whiteboards or windows. Artists and musicians may have journals for doodles, sketches and notes.

Obsessive. Geniuses seem to have the ability to concentrate single-mindedly on one question, problem or goal at a time while excluding all other diversions or distractions. OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are very common traits amongst the intellectually gifted. Season 1, episode 5 of Scorpion, reveals an interesting phrase. Characters Mark and Walter are said to have traveled down the "rabbit hole.” This well describes a period of sleep-deprived obsession in the quest for specific solutions. This level of focus allows geniuses to achieve results that only exist in the average person’s dreams.

Incredible problem-solving skill. Intellectually gifted people are able to work through a solution in the absence of established procedures. A genius is more apt to teach himself a programming language in order to write the code that automates the process of presenting a solution—a sequence that seems convoluted to others.

Antisocial. As a result of the indicators mentioned, it is not unusual for gifted people to be socially awkward or introverted. Their analytical approach to things may reveal a lack of common emotion normally expressed in a given circumstance. The average person might mistakenly view this as callousness or arrogance.

Many other correlations to creative genius have been observed. Some are paradoxical, like being both humble and proud or the ability to become extroverted or introverted depending upon the situation. Emotional immaturity along with the deepest insights may be present. Not every creative genius has the same traits. Common denominators are impressive results in a given endeavor and a complex, multi-layer personality.

Blending Layers

Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation in order to reach their goals. I have had the privilege of subcontracting work directly and through agencies of major companies like J&J, Neutrogena, Honda, Mazda, Yamaha, Allume Systems, Baxter, IHOP, Grace Restaurants and hundreds of others.

When approaching a project, I first consider each of the talents I inherently bring to the table. (See sidebar.) If within my genre, this alone may be sufficient to solve the issue. Depending upon the scope of the project, I may research what current software or hardware can be employed to streamline the process. Next, I contemplate whether a custom software solution is feasible. Then comes the hard part of calculating time for the purpose of a quote.

I once estimated a project would take 72 hours. The bid was approved 6PM Friday. However, it was due (and delivered) on Monday morning. Considering the number of obstacles that must be overcome within limited timeframes, some companies have commissioned me without requesting a preliminary quote.

Could You Be a Creative Genius?

In a project for a group of scientists, I was tasked to deliver a cohesive full-color hardbound book within two weeks. Various cover and binding ideas were presented during the first week while a pair of scientists sifted through 10 years of research papers to cull 50 for double-page spreads. The original documents and supporting graphics traversed seven software applications, dozens of layouts and two operating systems. There was no documented procedure to homogenize data, hence no time to train assistants. To expedite production, we agreed to work under the assumption that prior research had already been proofread so once the general layout was approved, I would press full-steam ahead.

Given the deadline, all the equipment required to print and bind in-house had to be researched and purchased for delivery in time for fabrication. Any apprehension during the process was tempered by the confidence of a scientist who remarked, “You under-promise and over-deliver.” Printing and binding occurred over the final three-day weekend. A dozen hardbound books were single-handedly delivered on time. I even managed to produce an extra priceless copy for myself as a cherished memento.

Taming Obsessions

Heightened creative ability frequently comes at great cost. Eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes is a noteworthy example. An aviation accident in 1946 heightened his OCD, bipolar disorder, paranoid schizophrenia and germaphobia.

Could You Be a Creative Genius?

People with OCD have unwanted thoughts that interfere with their functioning (like unrestrained counting, aligning or hand washing), whereas people with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) are highly functioning individuals. They are convinced that their way of thinking is absolutely correct, if not superior to everyone else’s. OCPD is not a disease to be “cured." Rather, as the name implies, it is embroidered within one's personality. Such a person might establish a standard for success without regard for the sacrifices (time, iterations, deprivations) required to achieve it. With a flip of a “switch” a task can come into the spotlight while lights are dimmed on all other activities.

Steve Jobs, is considered a creative genius by most measurements. Yet, pointing out his micromanagement, preoccupation with “thin” and overbearing management style, he is associated with OCPD, though he was never diagnosed as such.

According to author Joshua Kendall, "Obsessives do very well in the IT world. In fact, tech firms such as SAP are now making a concerted effort to hire workers who have Asperger syndrome, which is an analogous condition.” Kendall continues, "They also do well in athletics, particularly in sports such as baseball or golf in which they need to do the same thing over and over again.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced, me-high chick-sent-me-high-ee) wrote, “If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude.”

It is possible for several creative or OCPD individuals to work together as long as they are able to focus on one person’s vision without getting lost in individual aspirations or turning tasks into a competitions. Fortunately, OCPD has several variations. One might focus on appearance while another is obsessed with function. Some individuals are inwardly focused while others are outwardly. With the right mix, superior results are achievable.

Blog: Working With Obsessive People

Through cognitive behavioral therapy, those with OCPD can train themselves to prioritize and redirect their obsessions in order to prevent damaged relationships or debilitating deprivations. To this end, those with OCPD may need to be selective in their undertakings—saying “no” to projects that they may actually be able to accomplish well. Another coping mechanism is to compartmentalize aspects of a project that can be delegated. Then select a qualified individual and delegate the task, not how it’s done. Delegation is a big step for those with OCPD. By focusing personal energies on the most important things, what is commonly neglected among highly gifted individuals can remain intact—their families.

What about you? Do you share some of the creative genius characteristics mentioned here or elsewhere? Are you attracted to shows about people with higher intelligence like Scorpion, Bones or A Beautiful Mind? Perhaps you might enjoy reading a list of 22 Most Intelligent Celebrities. Share your elevated thoughts below.

Tags: aptitude, high-functioning, intellect, perfectionism, reclusive, smart

  1. What is a Genius Savant?
  2. Famous IQ.
  3. Intelligence quotient.
  4. Three Characteristics of a Genius—Do you possess them?
  5. 24 Characteristics That Geniuses have in Common!
  6. Obsession: The Dark Side of Steve Jobs’ Triumphs.
  7. 10 Most Extreme Cases of OCD in History.
  8. The Complexity of the Creative Personality.
  9. Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality.