Smart Man Online: Dick Richards: Speaking of Genius
April 27, 2006
This week's outstanding interview is with my friend, Dick Richards. Dick is a friend I have yet to meet in person, as happens when you blog. Dick has been leading the renaissance to renew spirit in workplaces since the publication of his first book, Artful Work, in 1995. He is also the author of The Art of Winning Commitment (2004). Is this why he's my interview of the week? Not at all. He was kind enough to allow me to review his latest book (see below) and I found it so compelling, I told him we had to do an interview. It's been a long time in coming, but here it is, at last. A glimpse into a creative mind that will get you wondering...about your genius.
Dick Richards is an accomplished consultant and coach, and an engaging speaker, as well as an author. He tells me that he's helped more than six hundred individuals discover their genius in more than fifty organizations across the United States, and in Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, and Europe. His most recent book, and the subject of this interview, Is Your Genius At Work?, has been called inspiring, refreshing, energizing, affirming, and life-changing. All descriptive words I agree with. To which I would like to add - innovative. Read on to find out why...
Yvonne: I'm going to start this interview with a quote from your book. This is at the beginning of Chapter 2: "Take care with a name: let its sound echo with delight in your soul." The Monks of New Skete
This spoke loud and clear to me. I dropped my given name when I went to college and change to my middle name, for which my family has yet to forgive me. And yet, I feel strongly that names speak volumes. Can you elaborate, and explain how this applies to Recognizing our Genius?
Dick: Names hold great power in three ways. First, a name can evoke memory, emotion, and associations. Second, the process of naming something or someone can produce a sense of ownership, stewardship, or responsibility. And third, names can impart of sense of identity, of whom or what things are: that is a chair, you are Yvonne Divita, and I am Dick Richards.
I once owned a dark brown Saab named Thor. It wasn’t the best car I ever owned, or the most remarkable in any way. But I do remember it better than most other cars I have owned, partly because it is the only car that I have ever given a name. It stuns me that people who found a name for their genius recall it ten or fifteen years later, when they can’t remember the results of the assessment test that they took only months ago.
I don’t know if this was true for your name change, Yvonne, but many people who have changed their own names do so at a point in their lives when they are ready to take ownership over the person that they believe themselves to be rather than the person that others have expected them to be.
Finding a name for your genius is also a device that centers the process of self-discovery. You go into that process with a very specific goal—find a name for your genius, two or three words that are the most precise description of your uniqueness that words will allow. Then, once found, the name becomes a kind of handle that allows you to hold onto that significant piece of your being.
Yvonne: Maybe we should explain the "Genius" concept before going further...
Dick: Good idea! In common usage the term genius refers to high intellectual capacity or to extraordinary creative achievement, but in my lexicon it refers to the unique energy that attends each person. Your genius can be thought of in a practical way: as the exceptional power that comes most naturally to you, as the process in which you engage so spontaneously and easily that you do not notice it, and as the business you are in as a person. It can also be thought of in a spiritual way: as the energy of your soul, and as an answer to the question of why you exist among the human community.
That second way of understanding genius is a very ancient concept that is alive in most cultural and spiritual traditions, although under different names. In that way of thinking, your genius is your divine spark, the essence of how you can best express yourself, specifically chosen to guide and protect you. It is a gift to you, and your gift to others. It attends you and you alone, and is not duplicated anywhere else on the planet. You are responsible for it and to it. It shows up, seeking expression, in everything you do. It is a link to the divine.
It is not your purpose; but the energy given to you to fulfill your purpose. It is not your calling, but a power given to you to fulfill your calling. It is not your soul, but the energy of your soul. It is not out there somewhere in the future, but is present now. It has always been with you, and will always be with you. It will not change, though your understanding of it may grow.
Its reason for being is to serve others merely by being what it is, by nourishing your direction when that direction is worthy, and by alerting you when it is not.
Yvonne: I'm intrigued by your process - because I've felt a need to 'name' my genius for a long time, though I didn't know that was what was missing in my life. Now, I feel compelled to identify it...to understand it...to embrace it. Can you explain the process you outline in your book? And how you came to recognize the process?
Dick: I’ll tackle the second question first: how I came to recognize the process. It has been a lot of experimentation, over about twenty-five years. My corporate clients often ask me to design and deliver custom-built workshops or processes of various kinds: about career development, teamwork, leadership, customer service, helping people to connect with the organization’s vision and values, and about various other issues. I have been able to include working on genius as part of those events and processes wherever I thought it would be effective. I also use it in my coaching practice.
The challenge in creating a process to help people recognize their genius was that it is basically an Aha! process and so does not lend itself to the familiar kind of linear, step-by-step methodology. It isn’t an entirely rational process either. It involves a set of strategies and exercises to collect information about yourself, and then find a common theme within the information. The strategies and exercises will get you 90% of the way, and then your intuition, and your abilities to synthesize and to let go of rational analysis have to take over in order to allow the Aha! to occur. The book has thirteen exercises to help with the first 90% of recognizing your genius, plus exercises about your current work, your purpose, and other related questions. You are pretty much on your own for the last 10%, although coaching by someone who understands genius and the process can be of enormous help.
The first step is to begin to notice what you do when you are not noticing what you do. Yes, it sounds paradoxical, but your genius comes spontaneously and easily; it is so natural to you that you probably do not notice it. Noticing what you do when you are not noticing what you do requires attending to information about yourself that you usually ignore. Attending to that information enables you to see yourself in a new and different way.
The whole process is on display at the Genius Workshop Google Group, where people are helping one another to recognize their geniuses. Anyone can monitor those dialogues.
Yvonne: What happens if we don't discover our genius? Surely, there are many people, all over the world, who will never name their genius. What happens to them?
Some people are able to find expression for their genius in their work and personal lives even though they have never formally recognized it. They find that expression through luck, divine intervention, an intuition about their genius, or lots of experimentation. However, those seem to be the exception.
Most of us fall prey to THE SYSTEM. Dave Pollard recently wrote a lengthy and eloquent description of this at his blog How to Save the World. Dave said, “It all starts with the education system. That system is designed to make us dependent on the economic system that finances and controls it.” In THE SYSTEM we do not expect our work to satisfy the soul, do not expect it to give expression to our genius.
Most of the cultural and spiritual traditions in which I found a synonym for genius also contain a warning against ignoring it. William Blake, writing from a Christian perspective, believed that if he shunned his genius he would not fulfill the purpose of his life. The Yoruba of Nigeria believe that your genius is the power by which you are who you are. Jews believe that finding your “special treasure” is an obligation. The Dagara of West Africa believe that failure to find nurturance for your genius kills it and you. Ananda Coomaraswamy, a linguist, philosopher, and art historian, wrote, “No man... can be a genius; but all men have a genius, to be served or disobeyed at their own peril.” And James Hillman, using the Greek term daimon instead of the Latin genius, said it very succinctly in The Soul’s Code. He wrote, “Don’t dis the daimon.”
Many if not most of us do, of course, dis the daimon. We usually do that for reasons of security or money, or because we don’t expect anything better in our lives. A friend of mine visited with a Native American healer. He told the healer that his work involved, “Bringing spirit to workplaces.” The healer told him, “You can’t bring spirit to workplaces. It is always there. It may be suffering, but it is always there.” So it isn’t that you can’t bring your spirit to work; you really can’t avoid it, even though the work may do harm to your spirit. Dissing the daimon is one root of a great societal soul-sickness—starvation of the spirit in our workplaces, which then spills over into the rest of our lives.
Recognizing your genius gives you, at least, an understanding of exactly what it is that you are sacrificing, which can help you feel less powerless, and an opportunity to feed your genius outside of your work. At best it gives you the ability to search for and find work that will nurture your soul rather than starve it.
This is only Part I of my talk on how to recognize and name your genius, with Dick Richards. I feel that this subject needs a bit of digesting...so I've broken it up into two parts. The second half will post tomorrow, Friday, April 28th. I invite you to come back and get more of Dick's excellent advice on finding your genius. Because, as he's taught me, everyone has a genius, and every genius has the power to change your life. Tune in tomorrow...
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