Genius: Who has it? The young or old? Why does it matter?

Citizen Kane has been rated by critics as one of the greatest movies of all time. Orson Welles was a mere 26 when he directed the film. Citizen Kane was Orson Welles first movie (he acted, directed and wrote the screenplay – and won an Oscar for the screenplay).

Alfred Hitchcock directed the best movie he ever made – Psycho – when he was 61. He directed his most famous movies – PsychoBirds and Marnie after he turned 60.

Two types of genius

Welles and Hitchcock, each represent a type of genius. Some geniuses show their talent early in life – Mozart, Orson Welles, Picasso; while others bloom late – Hitchcock, Haydn, Monet. David Galenson, calls the first group ‘Conceptual Innovators’ while those who bloom late,he calls ‘Experimental Innovators’.

How does it apply to companies?

When it comes to innovation in companies, which type of innovators should you nurture? Conceptual or experimental?

A company is vulnerable at any time, but especially when it is young. At that time, it does not have the luxury of a trial and error culture – and must rely on ‘conceptual innovation’. These innovations tend to be disruptions – Apple with its GUI; IBM with Hollerith cards and then the Bar Code reader; Nitendo with Wii – and are often the harbingers of a new way of working or playing.

As companies mature, they can afford to rely on experimental innovators. They now have the resources to experiment and innovate. In fact, if you see innovation that comes out of large companies, most would be mildly incremental improvements rather than a break from the usual. But this may not be the right way. It might lead these companies to favour experimental innovators at the expense of nurturing conceptual innovators.

As a tired reminder, Kodak invented the Digital Camera – but since it did not fit in with their linear, non-discrete model of innovation, they shelved the product and we all know what happened to them.

On the other hand, IBM is the only technology company that has lasted for over 40 years on the Dow Jones Index. The duration a company lasts on this index is a good indicator of its sustained market leadership. IBM nurtures conceptual innovation. Its employees have garnered six Nobel Prizes and as of 2018 generated more patents than any other business, every year since 1993.

Firms will be better off developing an eco-system that celebrates ‘Conceptual Genius’. They may be better off if they nurture Orsons more than Hitchcocks, and Picassos more than Monets.

How does your company encourage innovation and innovators? What systems have they established? Do these systems encourage conceptual innovation or experimental innovation?

What do you think?



Note : This article was originally posted on LinkedIn


Ramesh Dorairaj

Ramesh Dorairaj is consultant, coach and an author. He has 27+ Years of Experience consulting for Fortune 500 companies worldwide. He has groomed 50+ leaders. Has participated in 2.5 Billion $ worth of successful deals.  He is a Certified Executive Coach at Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching, Certified Sales Coach and a Certified Proposal Coach.