They say grass is always greener on the other side, but where is it most creative? That is the question former NPR correspondent Eric Weiner tries to answer with his newest book, The Geography of Genius. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Weiner about the book and the search for the world’s smartest places.
Having visited over 30 different nations in his time as a correspondent, Weiner knows the importance of location and the effect it can have on a person. He says it plays a pivotal role in the creation of geniuses.
“Geniuses aren’t really born; they really aren’t made through hard work, at least not only,” he said. “They’re grown in the soil and we largely ignored the soil as part of that equation.”
But what are the traits needed to produce such a creative individual? Weiner found out geniuses are most often created in cities with some even in relatively close proximity to one another. Weiner calls these locations “genius clusters.”
It is not enough to just be a city, however. Genius cluster cities must be very open to outside ideas. Ancient Athens, which Weiner classifies as a genius cluster, had a very open immigration policy turning its golden age. This openness allowed the introduction of new ideas and concepts into the city’s population. Many geniuses themselves were immigrants.
“They’re outsiders. They bring that outsider’s perspective,” Weiner said. “They see things a bit differently and the genius always sees things a bit differently.”
These cities, however, were often not peaceful places. Florence, another genius cluster, was often under siege and hit by plagues. These harsh conditions often fostered the experience of geniuses, providing them with challenges and inciting innovation.
Another common trait Weiner found among geniuses was the need to get away. Many of these creative people would spend long periods in the countryside between spouts of creativity, isolating themselves in search for inspiration.
These kinds of personality quirks surprised Weiner the most in researching his books. While we often idolize geniuses, Weiner reminds readers they are often imperfect human beings, just like anyone else.
“We tend to put these people up on pedestals and treat them like gods and goddesses and they’re not,” Weiner said. “They’re just as neurotic as you and I, sometimes more so.”
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