Episode 006

Cultivating Your Young Genius at Work

Halftime Show

Jeffrey’s Premise:

The people who lead lives of meaning and mastery let a force of character – a young genius – guide them as they pursue their most meaningful work and ideas.

‘You are seven years old.’

What if we approached each day with a childlike mindset? Would it cultivate original thinking? Recapture a spirit of play and exploration? Bring us back to our young genius—the unique force of character we were born with?

We have reached the halfway point of Season 1, and Jeffrey is stopping to reflect on the idea of ‘retrieving childhood at will’ and aligning our current work with the young genius of our seven-year-old selves: Is there a correlation between paying attention to this unique force of character and our own capacity to lead a life of meaning, if not mastery?

Today, Jeffrey introduces us to the concept of a ‘genius force,’ explaining why the most influential and fulfilled people allow their young genius to lead them. He looks back at Charlie Gilkey and Pam Slim’s stories of their own young genius and how their childhood memories of channeling MacGyver and burying marbles inform their current work. We consider the idea of ‘primal uniqueness’ as a seed seeking nourishment and explore how our genius force might still thrive—even in a hostile environment. Jeffrey reminds us of Caroline Adams Miller and Ishita Gupta’s challenging childhood experiences as well as Srini Pillay’s curiosity for the forbidden and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s detour from cultural expectations. Listen in for insight around remembering your own young genius and finding work that allows that genius to flourish.

Key Takeaways

[1:26] The concept of a genius force

  • Leads to creative fulfillment
  • Most influential use as guide

[4:33] The invitation to remember being a seven-year-old

  • Produced more original responses in NDSU study
  • Recaptures spirit of play, exploration

[8:57] Charlie Gilkey’s ‘MacGyver’ young genius

  • Creative with limited resources as child
  • Became profoundly resourceful consultant

[10:17] Pam Slim’s genius as a brilliant connector

  • Elaborate fantasies in childhood (planting marbles, reading …Narnia)
  • Feeling of magic, adventure and story in current work

[12:08] Robert Greene’s idea of primal uniqueness

  • All born with seed that wants to be nourished
  • Express uniqueness through work to heighten chance of mastery

[13:05] Caroline Adams Miller’s challenging childhood

  • Lack of love from biological family
  • Found happy, safe place at school

[15:12] Ishita Gupta’s precocious childhood

  • Middle class family, told what to do
  • Curiosity, questions got into trouble

[18:07] Srini Pillay’s experience growing up in apartheid

  • Curiosity for forbidden
  • Genius rose above environment

[20:33] Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s rebellion from expectation

  • Expected to attend Ivy League school, become doctor/lawyer
  • Found intellectual satisfaction in consulting, think tanks
  • Talent for making technical knowledge useful

[25:31] The challenge of remembering your young genius

  • Georgia O’Keeffe encouraged to pursue talent at UVA
  • Others reflect genius back to us, including children

[31:13] The young genius’ role in questioning the status quo

  • ‘Is this a dream or real life? Do I actually exist?’
  • Expanded perception of what is possible
  • Unpredictable path to mastery, fulfillment (e.g.: Constantin Guys)

[36:00] Charles Baudelaire’s definition of genius

  • ‘Retrieve childhood at will’
  • Apply order to sensations received with delight, curiosity


Each week brings you in-depth conversations with leaders, stories from change-makers, and provocative ideas from artists and scientists – all designed to inspire you to shape your best work with more possibility, impact, and – yes – wonder.