Genius Club

October 1, 2009

This is a response to Sylvester, who left this comment on the Societal Norms post:

…but even more could be done if we brave forward and try to openly create a network of individuals like ourselves who can transcend the achievements of the average person on an (intellectual level) TOGETHER… each one of us may be capable of greatness but i am sure a room full of us could accomplish the near unthinkable, solve the almost irrational and design the unimaginable…. and that would be a truly great day for us all.

I was discussing this with my wife today, actually.

On this blog I’ve briefly explored the ways that “genius clubs” tend to implode under the weight of all our collective social dysfunction, but it’s still quite a tantalizing problem to solve.

I think there are two major issues that geniuses face:

  1. Freedom

    We are constrained by the structure of our society which rightly has optimized to support the average populace, at the expense of minorities. The systems aren’t equipped to readily support a genius in his work/play.

    My wife and I decided to solve the first problem four months ago. Our goal was to create a context in which we can think and behave exactly as we want to. “Freedom” is largely a state of mind, so much of that work has to be done internally; that’s work that we’ve largely completed. The main external factor that constrains us, however, is money. How much time and passion is wasted with jobs we hate and are unproductive in? Those same jobs tend to constrain us geographically, as well as confining us to just one discipline.

    We solved it that problem: in February we will have become independently wealthy. From there we can work on whatever we choose to and go where ever we want to without ever worrying about bills.

  2. Company

    By virtue of our rarity, geniuses are a lonely bunch, as evidenced by this blog and the continued attention it attracts.

    My wife and I also have an interim solution for the second problem: each other. We found each other online and moved across the country to live together. It was just a chance meeting. What happened to us is not a systematic solution, but I think a solution exists that would tend to bring geniuses together at a frequency greater than random chance would.

I propose that what we need isn’t a problem solving group. If we assemble with the explicit purpose of doing “something great,” I fear we’re doomed to the fate of all the other high G societies. The important point here is that that’s okay. “Doing great things” isn’t among the fundamental and unfulfilled needs I listed above. We simply need freedom and companionship.

I belong to a creative collective that operates mostly as a closed, online forum. It’s invite only, and when someone is sponsored that new person has to be voted on by the existing members to be let in.

We are mostly graphic designers, with illustrators, photographers, and handful of programmers and musicians. The talent pool here is unbelievable. We have talented students, as well as creative directors for major Ad agencies, programmers for companies like Yahoo, top fashion photographers, and others equally talented.

One issue that has been discussed at length in that community is what we “should” be. The idea originally was that the collective is a place to share professional knowledge, contacts, and critiques. And in fact, we are all those things. The controversy surrounded the rest of the interaction: indeed, most of the material on the forum is not professional at all, but actually just chatting and socializing.

We were came to realize over the course of our 10+ year existence is that we not a community about creative professions, but instead a community for creative professionals.

Creatives, like geniuses, think and interact in fundamentally different ways than the average person. Only part of the value of this collective is in the [wildly valuable] professional resources it provides. The lion’s share can be found in simply sharing the company of unusual people who, as it turns out, are very similar to each other.

My Proposal

I think we need a genius collective. Just like the creative collective, we could share our projects and lives with each other, and receive meaningful feedback. A side effect of the creative collective has been the formation of strong, real life friendships. We have a conference every year, and this year we had two.

I think we should use that model to form a genius collective. It’s closed, invite-only. It’s anonymous from outsiders, but internally it’s not, which is perfect for us because among each other, we have nothing to be ashamed of in owning our abilities. It has no explicit goal, but resources grow from it by virtue of the people in it, so in our case, we have a repository of creative material like all the major software packages, 1000s of fonts, templates, instructions, member discounts, you name it. I’m sure similar resources would develop in our collective, perhaps with brain teasers, directories of worthwhile organizations and people around the world.

Through this online, social collective I could then teach members what I did to achieve independent wealth. It’s not difficult for a person of high intelligence to achieve, and with the support of a whole group of us, each of us in turn could achieve the freedom we need, precisely because of gaining the companionship we crave.

The one part that I’m not so sure about is something I also addressed in another post, which how to recognize a genius when you see one. The method in the creative collective is to rely on the inviting member for the first level of screening. Then, the candidate shows their work and accomplishments for others to vote on. This seems to work.

For us, I foresee one of the primary sources of new candidates, as Sylvester said, being lost travelers who stumble upon us from a keyword search. Perhaps what we need is a sort of entrance exam in which the landing page is the first question, and each subsequent page is a difficult question from a different field of study. If the candidate makes it through, he is in.

I see the test as being less like a usual IQ test, and more like a scavenger hunt, but I’d really like feedback on this idea.

As a person of exceptional intelligence, I am often faced with difficult questions of honesty, so I set out to decide how to handle the problems.

Honesty is an odd thing. People in general are vaguely aware that our childhood understanding of what it means to be honest isn’t sufficient to describe the actual nature of it, but I suppose it doesn’t cause people enough cognitive dissonance to actually think it though. I think I’ve made progress understanding it though. First, let’s define a lie. I think I’m safe defining a lie as:

Communication with the intent to deceive.

This definition hints that it’s not merely the words you choose that define your lie, but the context as well. For example, you’ve stolen something from your friend. If your friend asks you doubtfully if you stole something from him, and you respond with “Yeah, I did,” that may or may not be a lie. If you say it seriously, then you’ve told the truth, admitting the theft. If you say it sarcastically, you intended to deceive him by feigning insult at the thought that you could have stolen the item, and made it easier to lie for yourself because you get to avoid many of the physical symptoms of lying, since you said words that could have been the truth. The net result, despite the content of your answer, is that he thinks you didn’t steal the item, when in fact you did.

But what about jokes? You say something with the intention of momentarily deceiving a person for the purpose of humor. That’s deceptive, but I think we can agree it’s not a “lie.” What about “white lies”? You tell your mom the hat looks great, you tell your friend his haircut is awesome, but neither is the case.

I think the key is understanding that the object of communication isn’t always the subject of communication.

When your mom asked you if the hat looked good, her concern was never the hat, it was her self image. She was asking you to bolster her self image so that she could face the world confidently. You responded honestly to her, that she should indeed face the world confidently.

The communication was false in that you think the hat is ugly, but the hat wasn’t the object of the exchange, only the subject. With a joke, the subject is never the object: the object is humor. You honestly want to communicate humor when you tell a joke, so it doesn’t matter that the subject of the communication was misleading.

This is exactly the case with allegories and metaphors. It doesn’t matter if we are all really in a cave watching shadows, that’s not the point (or object), that’s just the metaphor (or subject). The point is that the world as we perceive it is not the world as it truly exists, so it doesn’t matter that the subject of that communication isn’t literally true.

So, what about job interviews, genius?

Most jobs that you get with a resume instead of an application, are jobs that require skills and experience. A technical position might require “5 to 7 years experience.” That number or range of numbers doesn’t matter, it’s only the subject of communication. The underlying truth is that 5 to 7 years experience corresponds to a certain skill level and knowledge base on average, and that skill level is the real object. A more accurate request would be for a candidate with the skill level that a person of, for example, IQ 130 intelligence would have in 5 to 7 years.

For a genius, that range is reduced drastically. So when you interview for a job you know you are very qualified for, but you don’t have that number of year experience, you have a conundrum. Do you remain accurate in the subject of communication, being “honest” about the true number of years you have been practicing a skill? Seems like the safest bet, but if you do that, you are putting yourself in a precarious position!

You will undoubtedly feel the need to say “I don’t have that number of year experience, but I can do the work anyway.”

“Really?” the potential employer will say, incredulously. “How is that, exactly?”

If you say what is the case: “It’s because I am extremely intelligent, and it doesn’t take me as long to learn skills as it takes other people,” you have shot yourself in the foot. You’ve violated the very social convention that led to the writing of this blog: you’ve “tooted your own horn.” People in our culture will label you as pompous, and you will leave a sour taste in the interviewer’s mouth.

The more likely scenario is that you’ll say: “It’s because I’m a really hard worker, and I’m really dedicated.” Ah, the safe answer. You’re dependable, bright, dedicated. You are also a liar. Even if those things are true, you have communicated with the intent to deceive, because you have skirted what you know to be the true source of your expediency for the sake of avoiding the awkward social situation of explaining how intelligent you are.

What was the point of being accurate in the number of years you claim to have practiced, if you lie about this now? You’ve succeeded in being honest about the subject, but dishonest about the object of conversation (years of experience, versus skill), and you’ve also been dishonest about the subject of the question in an attempt to be honest about the object (hard worker, versus highly intelligent).

I think the better approach is to be honest up front. They are asking for people who have a certain level of skill. You have that skill. You tell them, using a context they understand, that you have that level of skill. They ask for 5 to 7 years of experience, and you say “Yes, I have 7 years of experience,” which honestly communicates to them that you have the skills they are looking for.