Have you ever wondered why certain pockets of the world cultivated a band of geniuses during a specific period of time and haven’t been able to sustain that culture or hot bed? I’ve never thought about this fact until I picked up my latest amazing book: “The Geography of Genius” by Eric Weiner.
Bestselling author, Weiner, traveled to seven different cities to understand why certain areas in certain times created the perfect environment to encourage and foster creative genius. From Athens to Florence to Silicone Valley, Weiner writes clearly, plainly and with a compelling dry wit when discerning possible explanations for the Genius Factor. “The Geography of Genius” is littered with insights that could be described as poetic with their simplicity and distilled truth.
As Weiner unveils, Geniuses don’t thrive randomly around the world, but in clusters, e.g., Athens in 450 BC, Florence in 1500 AD. In researching his queries, Weiner quickly learned that “paying attention is the first step on the road to genius.”
Each chapter of this book is fascinating. Weiner’s observations are simple and seemingly obvious, but I had never thought of them prior to him pointing them out. Such as the fact that cultures which had a colorful and descriptive language actually saw life in a more creatively colorful way. “Language determines not only how we describe the world around us, but also how we perceive that world.”
I might have to purchase a new notebook to jot down all the penetrating acuity I want to return to. It’s motivating to understand how the struggle of innovation happens through grit and the belief of eventual breakthrough. For example, when referring to the technological explosion happening in Northern California Weiner writes, “Silicon Valley’s success is built on the carcasses of its failures. In The Valley, failure is fertilizer.”
This book is brilliant not just through observation, but also through research. Weiner borrows a beautiful definition of genius from German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who said, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one else can see.”
Throughout the book Weiner shows that creativity doesn’t require perfect conditions and in fact thrives in imperfect ones. Another interesting fact that Weiner uncovered is that “resource rich nations aren’t innovative for a simple reason: they don’t have to be.” One very impactful example he uses is Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is rich in diamonds, which has turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing.
The book opens with an overarching statement of fact from Greek philosopher Plato that sets up the direction of Weiner’s investigations: “What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.”
Leave it to the Greeks to be so profound 😉 This has me reflecting on what we honor at UCLA Gymnastics and what I’d like to believe we ultimately cultivate: self-appreciation, personal and unique expression and growth, artistry, respect for others, and gratitude for all things. If you’d like to cultivate deep thought on creative genius I highly recommend this brilliant book.
Photo by Gaelle Marcel