Want to think like a genius?

Take some of the 29 tips in the recent book by I. C. Robledo, The Secret Principles of Genius, who picked them up by studying the lives of great thinkers and doers, like Aristotle, DaVinci, Mozart, Tesla, Grace Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Prince (!), Einstein, Madame Curie, Buckminster Fuller, Steve Jobs et al.

While we are not guaranteed to be elevated to such heights, our thinking skills will be enhanced.

The 29, Briefly

Here are Robledo’s 29 keys, and I’ll discuss a few of them: using all your senses, exercising curiosity, adapting to change, seeking challenges, using vison and foresight, exploring your uniqueness, pursuing perfection, persevering, working hard, taking initiative, establishing your educational foundations, diving deeply into subjects, keeping a notebook handy, mastering some things, knowing the classics, seeking varied experience, making mental connections, asking questions, being objective, simplifying first, defining concepts clearly, looking for patterns, recognizing anomalies, performing analysis, looking for analogies, gaining other perspectives, listening to your intuition, maximizing your freedom, focusing on a big problem.

Whew! Let’s look at a few.

Exercise Your Curiosity

Her interest in mathematics led Grace Hopper to earn a Ph.D. in math from Yale in the 1930s and serve during and after World War II to advance computer science for military and commercial use. She became Admiral Hopper and was credited with substantial contributions to the field. Curiosity makes such people ask “Why?” and “How?”

Einstein asked what the world would look like if he were moving at the speed of light, a question that led to his path-breaking theory of special relativity, and similar curiosity helped him produce his general theory of relativity.

Biologist Alexander Fleming wondered why no bacteria grew near the mold colonies in his Petri dishes. Penicillin resulted.

Seek Challenges

Poet and social activist Maya Angelou said of herself that she was hard to live with, “The challenge that I put on myself is so great that the person I live with feels himself challenged.”

There may be a fine line between being a creative genius and being a “workaholic.” Still, one’s reach must exceed one’s grasp, if one is to achieve great things.

Explore Your Uniqueness

Henry David Thoreau, author, philosopher, abolitionist, and transcendentalist (the religion I identified with at college decades ago), enjoined us to listen to our own “distant drummer,” and “step to the music…however measured or far away.”

Our DNA is unique; perhaps it should be called “DNI” for Do Not Imitate.

If they could write, their history would record few outstanding lemmings.

Strive for Perfection

Here I, tellingly, diverge from this catalogue of the traits of geniuses. I am a “completionist” rather than a “perfectionist,” emphasizing getting the job done, rather than delaying until it is perfect.

Many companies have embraced producing the “minimum viable product,” planning to tweak it later, as experience and the public tastes direct. Perhaps this is the conventional computer versus the Apple. Both have succeeded, following different paths.

Ideally, one would balance “get it right” against “get it out the door.” Having recently been the recipient of some shoddy goods and poor service, I am moving toward the “get it right” side of the spectrum.

Build Connections

A key to creativity is recognizing the connections between things. DaVinci recommended seeing the science of art and the art of science. Why is this like that? Why is it unlike the other? Can you extrapolate the trends in one area as likely to become the trends in another?


To understand something, take it to its basics. Why do stocks tend to fall if interest rates rise? Why did manufacturing towns arise by bodies of water? Why do people imitate each other rather than act independently? How can you use such insights?

Use Analogies Wisely

Robledo cites the simple analogy that human bodies are like cars. The similarities are numerous: locomotion and the need for fuel and maintenance, for example. But the differences are many, also. Cars cannot heal themselves, and they have no will of their own…or not until self-driving cars become the rule.

Society is in some ways like a bee hive, and in other ways, not so much. What are the policy implications?

We say, “The exception proves the rule,” but the use of “proves” here means “tests.” It does not mean that an exception confirms the rule.

Freedom of Action

A wise person, not necessarily a genius, choose options that leave other options available in the future. Education opens doors. Delaying marriage and child-bearing makes professional opportunities more numerous. However, early marriage and child-bearing open a different set of paths to happiness. One person’s relative confinement is another’s relative freedom.

Summing Up

We want to be wise. Applying our intelligence to our experience and to learning helps to enlighten us. We want to take advantage of some of these keys that rare geniuses have used and accelerate our own passage to wisdom.

Which of these thinking techniques have you found helpful? Which might you plan to use more of? Do you tend to be a perfectionist or a “completionist”? Please join the conversation.

Douglas Winslow CooperDouglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D. is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes and helps others write and publish their books, via http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. Douglas’ life’s central theme has been a half-century romance with his wife Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic for over a decade due to multiple sclerosis, receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed here at their website.

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