Society is Good at Training Talent But Systematically Bad at Nurturing Genius

It’s a well-known cliché that genius is often unrecognised in its own time. But it’s an observation that speaks to a more troubling truth: society is systematically bad at nurturing genius.

Despite a long history of iconic inventors, philosophers, and artists, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that our society’s structures and institutions are failing to recognise and cultivate the gifts of brilliant minds.

Society is good at training talent but bad at cultivating genius. Talented people are good at hitting targets others can’t hit, but geniuses find targets others can’t see. They are opposite modes of excellence. Talent is predictable, genius is unpredictable,” argues David Perell.

Genius comes in many forms, and throughout history, we have seen some of the greatest minds that have changed the world.

However, society has often been painfully slow to recognise and nurture these geniuses, resulting in missed opportunities and lost potential.

From artists and musicians to scientists and inventors, many geniuses have been overlooked and undervalued in their time, only to be celebrated posthumously.

It is a sad reality that many geniuses are often misunderstood, ridiculed, or even ostracised by the very society that should be nurturing and supporting them.

We are all denied exceptional intelligence that can accelerate human evolution and transformation.

Society often values conformity over creative or independent thinking. Established systems fear disruption. We’ve been using the same learning systems for decades.

We are taught what to think instead of how to think

“We are not taught to be thinkers, but reflectors of our culture. Let’s teach our children to be thinkers” — Jacque Fresco

Learning systems created for industrialism are still being used in our schools today. “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow,” John Dewey said.

The modern world deserves better.

“In the twenty-first century, we use a nineteenth-century school model with twentieth-century values. There’s clearly something wrong with this picture, says Zander Sherman, in her book, The Curiosity of School.

Many schools are notoriously hesitant to nurture genius because geniuses often disrupt the status quo.

They may challenge established norms, question authority, or introduce new ideas that can be unsettling to those in power.

This can lead to resistance or even hostility towards geniuses and result in a lack of support for their endeavours.

Nikola Tesla was an inventor and electrical engineer who significantly contributed to developing modern electrical systems.

However, he struggled in traditional schooling due to a photographic memory that made it difficult for him to follow conventional teaching methods. He has over 300 patents to his name.

Maya Angelou struggled in traditional education due to a childhood trauma that caused her to become selectively mute.

She became a renowned poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, receiving numerous awards and accolades for her work.

Our stubborn emphasis on conformity, practicality and tangible outcomes is often at odds with a genius’s creative and experimental nature.

Edison was expelled from school at 12 and was largely self-taught. He became one of the most prolific inventors in history, developing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the electric light bulb, among other inventions.

Our preference for established practices and methods means a reluctance to embrace new and unconventional ideas.

Placing a high value on predictability and routine can be at odds with a genius’s dynamic and unpredictable nature.

Geniuses may require flexibility in their work and living arrangements to develop and explore their ideas fully, and society may not provide adequate structures for this.

Geniuses may prioritise exploration and experimentation over immediate results, making it difficult for society to recognise and value their contributions.

Richard Feynman was a brilliant physicist who made significant contributions to the development of quantum mechanics and particle physics.

However, he was known for his unconventional approach to education, which included a scepticism of textbooks and a preference for hands-on experimentation and problem-solving.

Educational systems have implicit biases that favour certain types of intelligence or ways of thinking over others.

It often results in devaluing or marginalising people who possess unique perspectives or are inclined to solve problems differently.

The path to success for original thinkers can be lonely and challenging, and they may need guidance from people who have experience navigating similar challenges.

Geniuses may not fit neatly into established norms and may be discouraged from pursuing their ideas.

Students are expected to fall in line, join the closed-minded educational system and do as they are told.

Many educational systems are designed to pass on knowledge — no questions asked- rather than challenge and nurture beginner minds.

It leaves brilliant minds bored or unchallenged and may lead to them losing interest in pursuing their best selves.

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the mind for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards,” says Anatole France.

Society is great at rewarding numbers and quantifiable achievements

“Do not train for passing tests, instead train for creative inquiry.” — Noam Chomsky

Intelligence and creativity come in many forms. Society’s emphasis on numbers means those who do not fit the traditional academic mould are overlooked or marginalised.

Einstein was famously a poor student in traditional subjects like math and science, and he struggled with the rote memorisation and repetition that was emphasised in his early education.

Despite this, he became one of the most brilliant physicists of all time, developing his own theories of relativity and revolutionising our understanding of the universe.

Bias towards traditional career paths makes it insanely hard for original thinkers to thrive.

We place high value on traditional career paths, such as medicine, law, or engineering, and undervalue creative or unconventional pursuits.

It limits the opportunities available for geniuses who may excel in areas outside of these traditional paths.

Steven Jobs dropped out of college after just one semester, and he later described the traditional education system as “flawed” and “limited.”

He co-founded Apple Inc. and became one of the most influential figures in the technology industry.

People who possess exceptional skills in areas that are not traditionally valued find it challenging to pursue their passions.

It leads to frustration, isolation, and even depression as they struggle to find validation and support for their unique abilities.

Van Gogh, now considered one of the greatest painters of all time, struggled with traditional schooling and dropped out at the age of 16.

He pursued a career in art but faced numerous setbacks and rejections before gaining recognition for his work.

Leonardo da Vinci, widely regarded as one of the most creative and innovative thinkers in history, had only a basic education in reading, writing, and arithmetic and struggled with formal schooling due to his unconventional interests and ideas.

Nurturing genius requires a shift in societal values and priorities

To embrace and educate genius requires a commitment to equity, inclusion, and diversity and a willingness to invest in long-term goals and innovative ideas.

It also requires recognising the unique talents and contributions of people who think differently and a willingness to provide the support and resources necessary to help them (and the human race) thrive.

Ken Robinson, the author of “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” explains: “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardise education, but to personalise it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

Human intelligence and creativity are among our most valuable resources. To nurture genius means investing in modern education, research, and innovation and creating an environment that fosters creativity, curiosity, and intellectual exploration.

To achieve this, we need to emphasise individuality, diversity, and inclusivity and create systems and structures that are more adaptable and responsive to the needs and talents of different people.

We need to move away from a traditional one-size-fits-all approach to learning and work and create more flexible and personalised learning and career development pathways.

We also need to shift our cultural and social norms in ways that encourage and celebrate creativity and innovation and that recognise the value of different forms of intelligence and talent.

That means challenging conventional wisdom, establishing ways of doing things, and the willingness to take risks and try new approaches.

It means fostering a culture of curiosity, exploration, and experimentation and creating meaningful opportunities for individuals to pursue their passions and interests.

“We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers,” says Chris Hedges.

Nurturing genius is a collective effort to unlock the full potential of human intelligence and creativity. It is an ongoing process that requires constant adaptation, evolution, and commitment to building a more dynamic, inclusive society for all.