First of all, there are no geniuses. There are only people who seek out better ways to do things and apply what they know, and then there are the rest of the humans.
With that said, I’ve noticed that every ‘genius’ I’ve come across are armed with two stupidly simply questions:
1. How is this like something I already know?
Past experiences are the ultimate asset when trying to learn something new. It’s how polyglots generally struggle with their first couple languages and then landslide right into learning 20 like this kid did in just four years. Arguably for other reasons as well, It’s also why entrepreneurs like Richard Branson or Tony Robbins repeat the saying “making the first million is the hardest.”
I personally struggled grasping compute science concepts like queues and polymorphism until I began relating them to “the Real World”.
Queues are fancy “British” for lines, like the one at the grocery store when there is a trainee doing an item check on produce for the first time. It’s horrible, more people are entering the line than there are leaving it, and we all have to endure my biggest pet peeve… waiting.
Polymorphism is a fancy term for using the same word for many actions. I gave it a lot of thought beforehand and ended up totally nailing it in an interview.
Prompt: ” Can you please describe what Polymorphism is?”
Answer: “Let’s just look at the word ‘open’. If I ‘open’, that door I will turn the knob and pull. If asked to ‘open’ my mind, I’ll read literature and books. To ‘open’ a woman’s heart, I’ll recite poetry and tell her I love her.”
The interviewer was very impressed. We talked for over an hour after that.
Leveraging past experiences is what allows rapid learning and solidifies long term recall. Also helps you kick butt in interviews.
2. What’s different?
When facing similarities, finding differences is what sets geniuses apart from the common folk. It’s what allows them to quickly pivot into getting the results they want.
Whenever a colleague, rival, or model is getting different results from me, I always make sure to prompt my mind with questions like:
- What am I doing differently?
- What’s different here?
- What more (or less) can I do to get the same result?
Priming the mind to discover differences is not only key to getting the result you want, keeps you engaged in for longer periods of time. It’s how Mortimer Adler recommends you take books apart to fully digest their material.
I find that when I hit a dead end, asking myself these questions brings back a second wind. I’m able to bring back a sense of newness, freshness, and adventure into daily routines. It’s what the rejuvenates my mind and transforms the mundane back into a mini adventures through a child’s eyes.
Failing to do so often leads to painful and/or hilarious situations.