How to Think Like a Genius: What Makes Them Different?

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Duration 00:41:52

Yale University

Craig Wright holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard and has taught at Yale for more than forty-five years, where he continues to offer “The Genius Course” each year. Professor Wright has published several books on music and cultural history, including his latest, The Hidden Habits of Genius. Yale has recognized Wright’s contribution to undergraduate teaching in the form of its two most prestigious prizes: the Sewall Prize and the DeVane Medal. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Chicago and in 2011 was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


A genius is said to be an extraordinary, intelligent person who breaks new ground with discoveries, inventions, or works of art. Michelangelo was certainly a genius, and so was Marie Curie, as well as Mozart, Beethoven, Edison, Tesla, da Vinci, Picasso, and Einstein.

Yes, we think of geniuses as being hugely smart. But what does it mean to be “smart”? Could “smart” be overrated? What about persistence, self-confidence, curiosity, and even luck, good and bad? Genius can be said to be the perfect storm of many personal traits, but which ones and in what proportions? And how can we learn from these unique people and begin to think like them?

How to Think Like a Genius: 14 Key Traits

Looking at the 14 key traits of genius, from curiosity to obsession, Professor Craig Wright, creator of Yale University’s popular “Genius Course,” explores what we can learn from brilliant minds that have changed the world.  Einstein. Beethoven. Picasso. Jobs. The word genius evokes these iconic figures, whose cultural contributions have irreversibly shaped society.

Yet Beethoven could not multiply. Picasso couldn’t pass a 4th grade math test. And Jobs left high school with a 2.65 GPA. What does this say about our metrics for measuring success and achievement today? Why do we teach children to behave and play by the rules, when the transformative geniuses of Western culture have done just the opposite? And what is genius, really?

Examining the lives of transformative individuals ranging from Charles Darwin and Marie Curie to Leonardo Da Vinci and Andy Warhol to Toni Morrison and Elon Musk, Wright identifies more than a dozen drivers of genius, characteristics and patterns of behavior common to great minds throughout history. He argues that genius is about more than intellect and work ethic and that the famed “eureka” moment is a Hollywood fiction. Brilliant insights that change the world are never sudden, but rather, they are the result of unique modes of thinking and lengthy gestation. Most importantly, the habits of mind that produce great thinking and discovery can be actively learned and cultivated, and Professor Wright will explain how.

How to Think Like These Geniuses 

Interested in learning how to think like some of the geniuses mentioned above? Check out some of these popular online lectures:



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Robert Kelly

Loved It!

This is an excellent video. I’m a math teacher, so I have thought about this question quite often. I try to see if I can help my students walk towards a path of genius. It’s helped think more clearly on this topic. Thanks!

6 months ago
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