The Phenomenon of Genius

I recently read this article on The New York Times magazine about how Russell Westbrook, the point guard for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, was a misunderstood genius. And genius is not an overstatement for what the 28-year old UCLA alumni is doing in the league. For those of you not in the know, Westbrook is averaging a triple-double.

A triple-double is a statistic where a player gets at least 10 in each of the statistical categories recorded in basketball (usually points, rebounds and assists but can also include steals or blocks). Getting it in one match is a great thing but this 6 feet 3 inch wrecking machine has been averaging it for the entirety of the 2016-17 season with his latest triple double coming against the Memphis Grizzlies (his 25th of the year). That the statistic is great is seen in the fact that the last time this was done was in 1961-62 when Oscar Robertson did it.

His on-court exploits aside, Russell Westbrook has an interesting personality off the court. A man who is so vocal on the court, can often be fiercely protective of his private life and whose social behaviour – as many instances cited in the NYT magazine would suggest – was erratic and would be considered off-colour by the rest of society, only seemed normal in light of what he was doing at Chesapeake Arena and beyond every night.

And Russell is not bucking the trend that many geniuses in many different fields have set- a line of eccentric, strange, paranormal, humourous, unique (call it what you will) personalities whose life in the spotlight is as colourful as their lives in the spotlight are brilliant. So what sets these guys apart? What does a genius have that others don’t? What is it that defines a Russell Westbrook, an Albert Einstein or an Eminem?

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Creativity and Hard Work

Creativity is one aspect that I personally notice in any person we attribute the label “genius” to. Many a time, these people can make something out of nothing or create a new possibility when all the doors seemed to have closed. And it’s not that they are creative- it’s that they are creative a lot of the time. Furthermore, to put that creativity to great use, they are consistently driven to work harder than their peers. In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Marshall Mathers (you may know as Eminem, one of the world’s greatest rappers), admitted that he thinks of rhyming words and making up lines for songs “all day”, even for example, while driving around in his car.

The same thing goes for people in science. There is a general perception that science being a field that deals with facts more than it does anecdote, there is not much scope to be creative. Creativity in a scientific field- be it physics, chemistry or biology- is usually a result of a few things- a culmination of sorts. It involves the existence of a problem, an inadequacy of present explanation and a creative application of existing laws to help derive possible solutions, theorize about them and prove them through application.


Eccentricity in geniuses is a product of the need to provide themselves with the perfect environment to succeed more than a general desire to flout the rules of society. This unconventionality in behaviour can take many forms and shapes and sizes. It can range from crazy television interviews (read as Westbrook and Ibrahimovic) to a disheveled personal life (read as Albert Einstein).

Oftentimes, their behavioural discrepancy is only exaggerated by the fact that the people around them do not understand (or even if they do, are not capable of accomodating) their need for personal space- a unique cubicle in which they and only they know how best to operate.

Belief and Self-Confidence

At 5 feet 9 inches, Boston Celtics’ point guard Isaiah Thomas is the shortest player in the NBA- the world’s toughest basketball league. And yet, as the seasons go by, he only seems to get better and better. Over the last two years, Thomas has emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Celtics and is averaging astronomical numbers in a league with an average height well over six feet.

“When I’m on the court, I don’t think like I’m 5’9″ and I’m doing this. I feel like I’m 6’4″ and I’m doing this.”

Taken with the last pick of the draft, Thomas has always had a chip on his shoulder. That, coupled with belief in his own abilities have led him to where he is today. He says of his game, “When I’m on the court, I don’t think like I’m 5’9″ and I’m doing this. I feel like I’m 6’4″ and I’m doing this.”

A supreme confidence in their abilities has always defined geniuses. Whether it is Stephen Hawking’s determination to narrow the universe down to an equation or whether it is Sir Winston Churchill’s determination to lead Britain out of the second World War victorious, a belief in their abilities has always defined men of unquestionable talent who have made it. We often hear of men who never made it not because they lacked the talent but because they lacked the belief in their own ability.

Outside of people who know them, such belief may often be seen as arrogance. Look no further than Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese footballing superstar who has often been subject to criticism for this reason- especially when his Argentine rival Lionel Messi seems very quiet and humble. But to geniuses, such confidence is what drives them to perform no matter what the situation.

Facing Failure and Reacting to It.

No scientist ever gets it on the first try. No footballer has ever won every trophy. And no musician has ever had an easy road to the top.

Probably the biggest example in this regard is that of Michael Jordan. A man who would go on to win six NBA championships and go on to be regarded as the best basketball player to have ever played the game, Michael faced failure early on in his career when he was cut from his high school basketball team. He used that as motivation to drive himself for the rest of his life.

Failure is an inevitable part of life. It hits every one of us in some form or the other. Whether it is due to our own fault or things we can’t control, failure always is hard to accept. However, as a wise man once said, it’s not about falling down. It’s about how you get up after you fall. Picking themselves up from defeat and having a renewed vigour with which they approach their problem till they conquer it, is something that has come to script a genius’ life.

Moreover, all these are interlinked. Picking yourself up failure coupled with a belief in your own talent plus a will to work harder than everybody else has often been the bread and butter of anybody who has been successful in any field. One cannot just have confidence without ability, or ability without confidence or ability and confidence without the will to work hard.

Genius, therefore, is a not a representative of a single character but a summation of all the factors that go into excellence beyond imagination.


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