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Characteristics and habits of geniuses

When people hear the word “genius” they often tend to think of people so brilliant, eccentric and unique that they cannot be compared. And that’s true to an extent. However, according to studies conducted by Catherine Cox and Mason Curry, there are definitely certain characteristics and habits that most geniuses in history have tended to share.

3 common characteristics

In the early 1920s a graduate student at Stanford University called Catherine Cox had a problem: she was working with Lewis Terman, one of the world’s leading experts on IQ, but his project involved tracking the lives of gifted children over decades, which hardly fit in with the fact that she was expected to finish her PhD thesis within perhaps half a decade. So she turned to another project: she decided to study some of the great geniuses of the past, using their biographies to view their whole lives at once, without having to wait for them to grow old.

In carrying out this study, one of the things that Cox did was measure what traits geniuses tended to possess. It seems likely that possessing these traits will help people thrive in the workplace and we should aspire to, and encourage our employees to aspire to, display these characteristics. What traits? Well here’s three:

#1: Ambition

One of the most important traits, according to Cox’s study, is that geniuses have a desire to excel and to achieve great things. In other words, they are ambitious. How can you encourage ambition in your workplace? While there’s probably lots of answers to this question, here’s one: despite the pessimism about millenials that many feel, this is one area where they thrive: millenials are ambitious.

#2: Hardworking

Cox’s study also showed that geniuses tend to work hard at routine tasks, putting in more hours than others to develop their abilities. In the workplace, getting employees to work hard is about boosting motivation and encouraging engagement: an engaged employee is far more likely to work hard and expend discretionary effort in achieving company goals than an unengaged one.

#3: Persistence

Geniuses are persistent: they are willing to keep working at a single project over the long term to achieve perfection. Since Cox published her study, a wide variety of research has been carried out on how this sort of grit relates to success and some of this research helps us to bring grit into the workplace.

3 helpful habits

It was 2007 and Mason Curry was supposed to be working on a writing assignment that was due the very next day. Instead, however, he found himself procrastinating by writing the first post of a blog that he called Daily Routines. The aim: to map out the day-to-day habits of various successful people. While the habits obviously differ somewhat from person to person, there are various common themes that run through the book, three of which are explored below.

#1: Drink coffee

Okay, so maybe I was just looking for an excuse to put this one in. Still, it is noticeable that a large proportion of the people discussed in the book drank coffee to keep themselves alert during the working day.

#2: Walk

Similarly, many of the people that Curry discussed seemed to value going for walks. This is a point that I’ve discussed previously: short walks are a great way to restore focus, when you need a break, and a great way to let the mind mull over problems that you’re struggling to solve.

#3: Stick to a routine

Finally, a large number of the people discussed in the book stuck to a fairly rigid schedule (even if the specific schedule varied from person to person). This one makes sense to me: establishing good habits is key to performing highly and a schedule helps you establish these habits.

So what can we conclude from all this? Well, there’s a saying that we can’t all be geniuses. True enough. But we can all learn from geniuses take a step forward by following some of the common characteristics and habits of geniuses. And that’s as good an excuse as any for me to get my second cup of coffee for the day.

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