top of page

You are not a genius!

A couple of weeks ago, I started an online zoom comedy course with Grainne Maguire, a comedy angel. Grainne sends us homework every day and this past week, they included talks by Liz Gilbert (famous author of Eat Pray Love) and John Cleese (in recent years a problematic fella, Monty Python founding member). Liz Gilbert's talk was a Ted talk about creativity and how we, as a society, perpetuate the idea of the 'struggling artist' or 'tortured artist' when it doesn't have to be that way. After Eat Pray Love was released, Gilbert said there was so much pressure around her follow up and to continue working, she had to create a safe distance between the work and her anxieties/pressures around it, "a psychological construct", if you will. She did some research and found that historically, in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, that creativity didn't come from human beings and was a divine spirit. Romans called the term a 'genius' which back then was something you HAD and not something you ARE. That a 'genius' is "literally in the walls" and comes to creators, creating the much-needed distance from the work. With that, the pressure and the ego were diluted because if the idea was lauded as amazing, the idea wasn't all your doing and if the idea was trash, it wasn't all your fault. This idea Gilbert believes helps not to kill off artists as this pressure, she believes, has been killing off artists for the last 500 years. The creative process is not always rational and so by seeing yourself as a "mule" for art, in that you carry it along, the pressure is taken off and just needs to be done because this 'being' said, "You're the person for the job, Alex!". She also uses another historical reference, in the deserts of North Africa, centuries ago, people would gather for these moonlight dances. Rarely, the performer would become transcendent and the audiences would chant "Allah", they saw "a glimpse of God in the performer". Gilbert continues that in this way, this "glimpse" is on loan to you and it may never happen again to that performer or creative but that to have these moments of creativity, for the 'genius' to show up, you have to show up and do your job. If this glimpse happens again, great, and if not, well done anyway and "do your dance anyhow". Similarly, in a less poetic and more clinical way, John Cleese did a talk about creativity in management. He says creativity cannot be explained, it's not a talent, it is a way of operating and it's unrelated to IQ. In investigating, research from Berkley in the 1970's showed, that the "most creative people get into a particular mood facility, a way of operating, that allowed their natural creativity to function, an ability to play (child-like)". They work in "open mode" which is relaxed, contemplative, playful and without pressure, whereas their counterparts in "closed mode" find creativity impossible due to the anxious and stressful state they're in. He continues, that once a decision has been made, one should go into closed mode to get to work and then back to open mode to review. The conditions best fit for open mode are: space (can't be in your usual working space for creativity to flow), time (to tolerate the discomfort of sticking with the problem for a more original solution), time (give maximum pondering time before making a decision), confidence (that whilst being free to be creative and play, that nothing is wrong) and humour (as an essential part of spontaneity). I find both of these talks are saying the same thing and can work simultaneously with each other: that you, yourself, are not a genius, that your genius may decide to come to work today, it may not but you still show up waiting for the "glimpse of God" and follow the open mode/closed mode rules of operating, continuing to switch, for optimum results. At a time where creativity seems impossible and unimportant as the world feels like it is ending, this way of working seems like a wonderful way to take the pressure off and continue creating. That being said, if you're reading this and don't want to/can't create right now, I think that's totally understandable too but when/if you're ready, this might be the way to move forward. I've linked the videos here:

I would also recommend Liz Gilbert's book 'Big Magic' which includes lots of this lovely stuff and additionally provides lots of inspiration. Thank you for reading, Alex's Genius LOL

37 views2 comments
bottom of page