Almost exactly two years ago I started my first job after graduating from University. I
Otherwise known as communal genius. This is a new term that I came across in Austin Kleon’s book “Show your work!”. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but I think it's great and will likely write about it again, but what stuck with me most was this word “scenius”. It’s not technically a real word yet but Urban dictionary defines it as:
“The intelligence of a whole operation or group of people.“
“Scenius” was coined by the musician Brian Eno to be the opposite of classical ‘genius’. This idea that you have to be an individual with superhuman abilities to create something, or do something, remarkable. There are plenty of examples of these kinds of geniuses throughout history; Albert Einstein, William Shakespere, Mozart, Picasso, Newton, Musk, etc.
But the truth is these people, while incredibly skilled or intelligent, had a whole cast of characters supporting them, reviewing their work, contributing ideas, and so on. History tells of lone geniuses because they wrote the play, they derived the equation, they finished the painting. They owned the final result. And rightly so.
The idea of scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of remarkable people, just acknowledges that good, creative work, isn’t created alone. That creativity is always a result of some kind of collaboration, of minds influencing other minds.
Even one of the famously lonely creative professions, being a writer, can and should be seen as a scenius. Find me one successful writer who doesn’t talk about reading other writers, taking inspiration, borrowing or stealing things like ideas, structure, and prose. And even then the process of beta testing and getting feedback and getting people to help is crucial. Look at the acknowledgements section of your favourite book if you don’t believe me.
The best thing about this idea is that it makes room in the story of creativity for the rest of us. For people who don’t consider ourselves geniuses. Being a part of a scenius, like being a part of a community, isn’t about how smart you are or how skilled, or how talented. It’s about what you specifically can contribute, the ideas you share, the conversations you have, and the work you can do.
If this idea was more widely understood and maybe even taught in schools, we could adjust expectations, change how people value themselves and other people. Not by measuring themselves or striving toward lone, arrogant genius, but by contributing to a larger goal.
“We can stop asking what others can do for us and start asking what we can do for others”
In this way you don’t have to be rich, or famous, or pigeon holed into something you don’t want to be doing, you can contribute what you’re interested in, what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about. It’s just a matter of finding your community. Of finding your scenius.