Saturday, 20 February 2021 05:27

How to be a genius, according to a genius

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IQ may be largely fixed, but that doesn't mean intelligence is. While we're stuck with a certain amount of intellectual horsepower, how you employ that talent makes a big difference. Learning different ways to approach problems and dodge cognitive pitfallseffectively makes you smarter. Even changing the time of day you tackle a problem can make you smarter. 

So how do you set yourself up to maximize your intelligence? There are few better qualified to answer this question than a certified genius

Physicist Richard Feynman received the Nobel Prize for his work unraveling one of the most mind-bending subjects known to humankind: quantum physics. He was also famous for his clear and engaging communication style. The man wasn't just brilliant, he was also great at explaining the process he used to think brilliantly. 

I've covered a few of these tips here before, but recently came across another great one on the blog Farnam Street. The post highlights a classic lecture by mathematician and MIT professor Gian-Carlo Rota on how to get students to pay attention in class. 

Much of these ideas are useful to anyone trying to seize and hold attention, but one tip is useful for just about anyone who has ever faced a problem in their life (so all of us then). It comes from Feynman originally, according to Rota: 

Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your 12 problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say: "How did he do it? He must be a genius!"

The joy of this advice is that it is simple as it is powerful, and you don't need a super brain to implement it. It's all about your system, not your talent.

Rather than a sky-high IQ, Feynman's approach requires the foresight to make a catalog of your most pressing problems. Add to that the attentiveness to watch out for new mental models, hacks, and relevant concepts (particularly from fields not usually thought of as relevant) and you have a simple recipe for a steady stream of fresh, useful ideas. 

And finding ideas like that is what intelligence is in practice. Cracking brain teasers or spotting patterns on some abstract test might give you bragging rights (or a leg up in college admissions). But the ability to solve problems and improve the world is real-life genius. Follow Feynman's simple framework and you'll be well on your way to making more of such smart moves. 

 

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