No one succeeds alone.

Why Creative Genius Is Not Enough

Harvey Ramer
Harvey Ramer
4 min read (823 words)

What image comes to mind when you hear the term creative genius? Do you think of a hunchback with an unkempt beard and a slightly crazed glint in his eye working unaided in a laboratory? If so, you base your impression more on fiction than on fact. Yes, loneliness may fuel creativity,[1] but the loner loses connection with the ones their innovations could serve.

Much is made of Einstein being an eccentric loner. Yes, he was eccentric, but he was less of a loner than most people think.

“Loneliness can even manifest itself as delusions and hallucinations.”
— Marilyn Wedge Ph.D., Psychology Today[2]

The economic success of the creative loner is infrequent. While we celebrate the paradigm-shifting brilliance of Albert Einstein as a reclusive genius, we miss the truth. The intense collaboration of the mathematics community enabled his genius to flourish.[3] Is it too much to say that no one succeeds alone? I don’t think so.

Our love for the solo inventor is not an obstacle until we try to bring our creative ideas to the market. By emulating the lonely genius, we lose touch with the market. With no collaborative input from others, we waste our intelligence on things that fascinate us but do not meet a deeply felt need in the market. The ideas of such a brainiac never see the light of day.

Three tactics used by authors and software companies can extract us from our isolated laboratories. They banish the slightly crazed look from our eyes and usher us into the outside world where we validate our innovations and launch to a market ready to purchase our products.

  1. Generosity: Offer a sample
  2. Wisdom: Provide consulting in a related discipline
  3. Friendship: Gather a trustworthy inner circle

Generosity

Book authors often make a big bet by composing more than 20,000 words before their readers offer unbiased feedback. Because of the opportunity cost of writing a book, authors have become savvier about their process. They often share free book chapters in return for the honest criticism of their readers. Early unbiased feedback provides a foundation for a successful work that expresses ideas readers will relish.

Your product may not be as easy to share as a digital book, but you can still get input from potential customers early on. And without much expense or risk to your project. Inventors of manufactured products use computer-aided design (CAD) drawings to get the same advantages.

Wisdom

Consultants know how to connect and sell without handing over their intellectual property. But inventors are shy about disseminating prototypes of their work because competitors might steal their ideas, so they isolate themselves. But entering the world of a customer who will enjoy your wisdom and buy your product is a way to stoke the fire of innovation.

Consulting lets you test your hypotheses and validate whether the market has customers ready to buy your product. Consultants sell by explaining their solution (the what) without disclosing their methods (the how). Innovators can co-opt this model to safeguard their privacy.

Friendship

We all need an inner circle of reliable friends, but true fellowship is hard to develop and preserve. Perhaps we can prioritize the art of friendship by assigning an economic value to it. When we find encouragement and gain wisdom from the experiences of others, our speed of learning increases. And friends bring their connections to bear and increase our reach in the community. With their help, we can discover new possibilities and build them more rapidly.

The kind of relationship that puts money in your pocket does not happen with feel-good, tell-you-what-you-want-to-hear sycophants. They speak the truth in love when it is hard to hear without fearing retaliation. Such friendships are built on trust and mutual respect and provide a context of innovation and continuous evolution.

You can shed your identity as a perspicacious hermit to embrace generosity, wisdom, and loyal friendship. When you do, your product development strategy will be less risky and more satisfying.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
— CS Lewis, The Four Loves[4]

The kind of relationship that puts money in your pocket does not happen with feel-good, tell-you-what-you-want-to-hear sycophants. Instead of stroking your ego, real friends speak the truth in love when it is hard to hear. They know we will not become resentful and retaliatory. Such friendships thrive on trust and mutual respect and provide a context of innovation and continuous evolution.


  1. A Silver Lining of Loneliness? It Can Help You Harness Your Imagination—Here Are 9 Ways To Use That Creative Energy ↩︎

  2. Life-Halting Loneliness (Loneliness is the unspoken diagnosis of our time.) ↩︎

  3. Einstein’s Genius Wasn’t in His Brain; It Was in His Friends ↩︎

  4. The Four Loves ↩︎