The 46 Rules of Genius: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 17th, 2014 by bobmorris

46 RULESThe 46 Rules of Genius: An Innovator’s Guide to Creativity
Marty Neumeier
New Riders/Peachpit/Pearson (2014)

How to become – if not a genius – at least someone who thinks more creatively and enjoys life more, indeed much more

I have read and reviewed all of Marty Neumeier’s previously published books and consider his latest, The 46 Rules of Genius, the most important…thus far…because it will have wider and deeper impact. How so? Neumeier agrees with Tom and David Kelley (among others) that almost anyone can think more creatively if (HUGE “if”) they are determined to think more creatively about how they think.

In his recent book, Metaskills, he identified and examined five talents that people need to develop in order to thrive “in an age of increasing man-machine collaboration.” They are “feeling, or empathy, and intuition; seeing, or systems thinking; dreaming, or applied imagination; making, or design talent; and learning. None of these needs a high I.Q. What they need is a high regard for creativity.” The 46 rules are creative rules. “They’re general guidelines to help you envision, invent, contribute, and grow.”

It is noteworthy that Rule 1 is “Break the Rules,” hence a paradox: “Here’s how to resolve the Genius Paradox:

1. React to the rules by embracing them or breaking them.
2. Observe the results.
3. Rewrite the rules from your own experience.

“You’ll find there [begin italics] are [end italics] rules for creativity — [begin italics] your [end italics] rules. They may not be the ones that others follow but they’ll be true and useful to you.”

Neumeier carefully organizes and presents his information, insights, and counsel within four Parts, each of which poses a critically important question that many (if not most) of his readers probably ask and to which he responds:

1. How can I innovate?
2. How should I work?
3. How can I learn?
4. How can I matter?

He includes an observation by Arthur Schopenhauer with which I wholly agree: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.”

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer’s Market at which merchants offer fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now offer additional excerpts that suggest the thrust and flavor of Neumeier’s thinking:

o “Caution: The 46 Rules of Genius is not for everyone, for the simple reason that not everyone can be a genius. This is not usually a failing of native intelli9gence. It is more likely a lack of (a) will, or (b) skill.” From the preface, “What Is a Genius?” (Page 21)

o “The framework [of a problem] is the boundary drawn around it. the ‘rope of scope’ that keeps it from sprawling to infinity. It narrows the focus, suggests a direction for the work, limits the investment, and determines how success is measured. If the framework is wrong, everything else will be wrong.” (23)

o “Too much freedom can lead to mediocrity. Why? Because without boundaries there’s no incentive to break through them. A real genius has no difficulty redefining a brief or defying convention. It’s second nature. But give a creative person too much freedom, and you’ll get a final product that’s over-designed, over-worked, over-budget, and under-focused. The greatest gift you can give a genius is limitation, not license.” (26)

o “The ‘dragon pit’ is the gap between what is and [what could be. It’s a space filled with discomfort, darkness, and doubt. Most people would rather grab the first rope thrown to them — what is — rather than stay and fight the dragon guarding what could be. But what could be is where the ideas are. A genius is someone who can tolerate the discomfort of uncertainty, while generating as many ideas as possible.” (31)

o “Learning to learn is a metaskill — a skill applied to itself. It multiplies your knowledge and accelerates your progress. When you learn to be your own teacher, you can acquire any skill you put your mind to. You can quickly build a new skill on the roof of the last one. You can move laterally from one skill to the next by bringing deeply understood principles to related disciplines. The ability to direct your learning is personal growth squared.” (79)

o “Without the skills of your craft, you might be able to come up original ideas. But you’d have difficulty making your ideas stick — demonstrating, developing, testing, and sharing them. Skills bridge the gap between thinking and making. There are no skills without practice — practice is the exercise gym of genius.” (110)

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye throughout Marty Neumeier’s thoughtful and eloquent narrative and, obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of his coverage. However, I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of him and his work. His latest book is another brilliant achievement. Bravo!

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