Identifying a Genius - Balaji Viswanathan


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    Balaji Viswanathan is a Product Manager at a VC funded startup in Boston. He has a Bachelors in Engineering, MS in Computer Science and an MBA specializing on Entrepreneuership/Finance from Babson college. He founded multiple startups that were funded by top accelerators and also worked at Microsoft helping build Windows and a few research prototypes.

    System Design

    I have always scored in the top 2/3 ranks in the class and usually 100/100 in math. Precisely because I was no math genius. If the test is designed for identifying who is the best average person, then the best will be the average. Our education system is primarily designed for addressing the problems of the middle of the bell curve. Because, this group represents the biggest chunk of the population and the outcomes are always measured in the averages [the average pass rate is 90% or the average proficiency of a student was x].  

    Since the system is neither designed for the game changers nor for the people with genuine learning disabilities, they will both be given worst of the hardships. The worst part is that the system cannot identify the difference between the game changers and the people needing more help learning. It confuses the two and makes things worse for the game changers.

    Identifying a Genius

    It is not easy for non-geniuses to identify a genius. Professor Hardy was a genius and he thus was able to identify Ramanujan's genius. Ramanujan was lucky here. 1000s of Ramanujans might languish with morons who have no sense of what a genius looks like. Our system is unfortunately populated by poor quality teachers recruited from the bottom of the barrel. They are often intolerant and incapable of having the patience to see the ingenuity. Although I despise reality television, I can still see some value in shows like "America has got talent" and all its regional variations. We are often stunned by the talent in the unknown, ordinary people. Think of how many such researchers or inventors are hiding behind the veil of mediocrity.

    Education and Exams are about the box

    Schools and colleges have a purpose. Historically, they educated students for the workforce.  The system has little capability of going far beyond that. Thus, if a student doesn't perform in those exams, it might just mean that he doesn't fit inside the box. Thomas Edison didn't. Steve Jobs didn't. Henry Ford didn't. and Ramanujan didn't. Of course, if you are testing these smart minds on how well they will fit in a box and the potential to work in some office, of course they will fail. Because, they are not born to work in an office.

    Some tips:

    Consciously look for geniuses. When you are really looking to identify these genius inventors, you might have better chance.

    Once you identify, put them on a separate track. Don't get them lost in the din of mediocrity. Let them be challenged by their genius peers instead of feeling smug or lost when they are the only genius around.

    Carefully groom them out of public attention. Don't put a premature spotlight. That might completely ruin them. Protect them from public glare until they are ready.

    Really have the patience to groom geniuses. It is the geniuses who cause paradigmatic shift.

     

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