Surrounded by Geniuses: A book review by Bob Morris

Surrounded bySurrounded by Geniuses: Unlocking the Brilliance in Yourself, Your Colleagues, and Your Organization
Alan S. Gregermnan
Sourcebooks (2010)

How and why winning in today’s competitive markets requires unlocking genius within us and in the world around us

I deeply appreciated all that I learned in Alan Gregerman’s most recent book, The Necessity of Strangers: The Intriguing Truth About Insight, Innovation, and Success, that I then obtained copies of two others, Lessons from the Sandbox: Using the 13 Gifts of Childhood to Rediscover the Keys to Business Success and this one. In my opinion, he is among the most thoughtful and thought-provoking among contemporary writers and I hope that many more volumes will be forthcoming in years to come.

What we have in this one is a combination of information, insights, and counsel that will help those who read the book to “unlock the brilliance within them” that has been held hostage, to date, by a lack of self-confidence and probably suppression by the defenders of what James O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Early on, Gregerman observes that his book on two ideas that have powerful implications for his readers and their organizations: “The first idea is that we all have the potential to be geniuses…The second idea is that we live in a world where we are surrounded by genius and knowledge that can be used to transform practically any company or organization…The only problem with these two idea is the reality that they run counter to the way most of us — and most of our organizations — prefer to view each other and the world around us.”

In his recently published book, The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, David Burkus suggests that there are ten primary dimensions of creative mythology that comprise a “system of heuristics, of speculative formulations, on how creativity works…and they have become well-entrenched myths. They include the Eureka Myth (insight from an epiphany), the Expert Myth (only those who know the most come up with valuable insights), and the Constraints Myth (order, structure, and limits hinder creativity). He repudiates all of them while noting that they remain remarkably durable and widespread. Gregerman agrees, suggesting that in order to lead innovation efforts, “we must have a better understanding of where creativity comes from and how to enhance the creativity of the people we lead. We must rewrite the myths.”

Here is Dallas there is a Farmer’s Market near the downtown area at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as sample of their wares. In the same spirit, I now offer a representative selection of Gregerman’s observations to suggest the thrust and flavor of his extended explanation of how and why winning in today’s competitive markets requires unlocking genius within us and in the world around us.

o “What is there are more brilliant way to do things? And what if those more brilliant ways are all around us simply waiting for us to discover them?” (Page 7)

o “So the real genius [in each breakthrough innovation] was an ability to see things differently than others and to put things together in a different way.” (29)

o “The challenge is to figure put in our own journeys [of discovery] what is worthy of our curiosity and attention” (46)

o “Conversations that matter enable us to find out what is going on in our customer’s world, what concerns them, what excites them, how their needs are evolving, and what they believe [or at least hope] is possible.” (80)

o “Rather than being wildly innovative and coming up with totally new concepts and designs, rocket scientists are constantly pushing the edge of what they already know.”(164)

o “Think about what it would take to create an organization that works together to anticipate customer needs before they arise.”(197)

o “Having a clear, compelling, and shared sense of purpose — a reason to exist that really matters — is the minimum daily requirement for unlocking the genius in your organization.” (214)

o “Leaders are the ones who capture everyone’s attention and spark a sense of curiosity by opening a book to a world where ideas, questions, and possibilities can take flight.” (230)

When concluding his brilliant book, Gregerman wishes each of those who read it “a safe and successful journey” while unlocking the genius within themselves and also, hopefully, while helping others to do the same. While reading this book, I was again reminded of the fact that all great leaders seem to have a “green thumb” for growing” other leaders within a workplace viewed as a “garden” that requires constant and caring nourishment as well as, yes, protection. Only in such a workplace are creativity and innovation most likely to thrive. I especially like Alan Gregorian final thought and share it now: “Leaders hold the lamp that lights our way on the journey to what we can and must become.” Bon voyage!

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