“It is not generally acknowledged or discussed, but the personality we project to the world plays a substantial role in our success and in our ascension to mastery.” – Robert Greene, Mastery
A young Sally Hogshead’s genius wanted to stand out. Her brother’s intellectual genius got him into Harvard. Her older sister’s athletic genius sent her to the Olympics to earn swimming medals.
And Sally’s creative genius? It didn’t emerge in dance. In her WSJ and NYT best-seller How the World Sees You, she tells a story of freezing on stage during her solo performance.
Her teacher had told her, “Sally, you’re not a great dancer, but you do have a certain spark.”
Her genius didn’t emerge in pre-algebra. She shows us her seventh-grade report card in which the pre-algebra teacher comments, “There is a fine line in math between being creative and being erratic. I will continue to support Sally in using her creativity but becoming more consistent in her work.”
Spark. Creativity. Erratic. Her creative genius wasn’t getting a fair shake doing pirouettes in a taffeta dress or using the 4-quadrant Cartesian coordinate plane.
Unlike many people defeated by failures and feedback, Hogshead didn’t give up trying to find the right forms for her genius to emerge, and she didn’t discount the world’s teachers. Quite the contrary.
Held in check, the world, it turns out, holds up a mirror to our genius.
Whether you’re a speaker or spiritual seeker, a painter or business artist, there’s an oft-overlooked level of knowledge essential to hone on the path to mastery.
It’s a knowledge that involves the world mirroring your genius. And it involves your genius in turn lifting up the world.
Way beyond “Just be yourself”
TIME recognized Temple Grandin among 2010’s most 100 influential people. Part of her influence came not only from her brilliance but also from some hard-earned lessons of how others perceived her not-so positively.
After Grandin’s memoir Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism came out, she became famous and was asked to speak on autism and then on animal behavior. She made elaborate, logical slides. She prepared her notes. She followed her notes and explained her logically laid out slides.
The evaluations of her talks shocked her. Audience members commented that she appeared aloof. She made no eye contact. She seemed mechanical as if she were delivering the same talk from rote.
That feedback might crush some of us and confirm some notion that we’re just not good speakers. Or if you’re reading this and you’ve spoken before audiences, you might nod and say, “Yep. Temple just needed to be herself.”
But both responses – “I’m just not a good speaker” or “Just be yourself” – miss the mark.
In that light, it might be worth seeing how the world sees you.
Robert Greene tells this story about Grandin in his book Mastery. He notes that Grandin instead scoured the critiques to identify patterns and then adjust. She learned to tell jokes, to be looser in following her slides, to make eye contact. Why did she adjust?
Not because she wanted to please people but because she wanted people to receive her message.
She could view herself semi-objectively from her audience’s point of view and on behalf of her audience and her message. That response distinguishes amateurs from business artists.
The art of becoming aware of how others see you is not about you. It’s about your message that you want to deliver and how only you can deliver it.
You have to see how the world sees you. That can be unnerving.
“Just be yourself,” someone well-intending says. “Don’t be self-conscious.”
But maybe awareness of how others see you is not being self-conscious. Maybe, as Greene suggests, it’s about being socially intelligent.
Or maybe it’s a field of knowledge we don’t often think of as relevant on a philosophical, entrepreneurial, or spiritual path.
In his beguiling classic A Guide for the Perplexed, E.F. Schumacher notes that self-knowledge requires two parts – knowing your inner world and knowing how you’re known to others. “Without the latter,” he notes, “the former may indeed lead to the grossest and most destructive delusions.”
I want to suggest that this is our job as business artists who want to do business as unusual:
Let your signature genius emerge
in the forms that let your message land
in the hearts of people who need your message.
That’s tricky. You can get in the way of your own genius.
“Genius” is the best Greek word I can find to describe your unique creative DNA, your signature business artist identity. Your best self.
It’s the way you distinctly create, captivate, relate, and make people’s lives better.
Hogshead calls it “your highest distinct value.” It’s essential, she notes, not to leverage your strengths as much as to leverage your distinctions. To appreciate how to leverage your distinctions, you have to understand how others regard you as distinct.
This is not navel-gazing. This is fundamental self-aware smarts for the founder of any venture, solo or collective, non-profit or for-profit.
Remember a time when your nine-year-old boy or girl self created. How did he create distinctly? How did she relate distinctly? The patterns are there.
After a decade or two of being an adult, you garner enough experience, data, and reflection to recognize patterns in how you distinctly operate in the world.
You let self-knowledge inform craft knowledge. You have talents. In this one life, you’re tasked to own them and hone them through skill-building and making. Your message can take shape and be dispensed through different media.
Your genius signs that medium with your imprint.
Craft knowledge is your increased knowledge of the different forms through which your genius can emerge.
Everything we create – on a canvas or product, a book or business, a service or design – becomes a vehicle for us to hone and refine that genius.
A book. A talk. A presentation. A design. A program. A poem. A film. A blog. A video. A dance. A podcast show.
These are media. They are forms. And your increased respect for, knowledge of, and mastery of certain ones lets you get out of your genius’s way.
Grandin wanted to give presentations to dispense her message, her medicine of sorts. Leaning on technical knowledge got in her message’s way. She could recognize that crutch.
With increased self-knowledge (“I am perceived as aloof and mechanical”) and craft knowledge (“Effective presentations are delivered by people who engage their audience and appear more spontaneous”), she could let her genius perceptions of animal behavior and her unique way of seeing the world be better received.
She thinks like a scientist and creates like an artist.
Your genius might need many media. Don’t get attached to the media. Lead with your genius.
That’s a different proposition than “Just be yourself.”
The wonder of the world’s mirror
To bring out your genius, you need different mirrors.
“[W]e are social beings; we live not alone but with others,” E.F. Schumacher noted in 1977, seven years before Mark Zuckerberg was even born. “And these others are a kind of mirror,” he goes on to write, “in which we can see ourselves as we actually are, not as we imagine ourselves to be.”
More to the point: Know how your audiences – customers, fans, readers, clients, concert goers – are drawn to you and distinctly you. Know how your genius distinctly triggers them.
Hogshead calls these distinct triggers Advantages. Based on her and her team’s extensive research, there are seven Advantages:
INNOVATION – You change the game with creativity.
PASSION – You connect with emotion.
POWER – You lead with command.
PRESTIGE – You earn respect with higher standards.
TRUST – You build loyalty with consistency.
MYSTIQUE – You communicate with substance.
ALERT – You prevent problems with care.
We each fascinate people through a primary Advantage and a secondary Advantage. Combine these two Advantages, and you get reflected back your Personality Archetype – a mirror for how the world sees you as distinct.
PASSION + INNOVATION = THE CATALYST (Out-of-the-box, Social, Energizing)
MYSTIQUE + INNOVATION = THE SECRET WEAPON (Nimble, Unassuming, Independent)
Sally’s Fascinate Assessment takes five minutes. Several years ago, it changed the way I honored my signature way of thinking, creating, and building a business. I have seen it bring out the best in authors, entrepreneurs, and executives.
When you recognize how the world sees your genius, you don’t change yourself to be liked. You become more of your best self and you own your genius persona.
Frida, the Dalai Llama, & your signature genius
That’s the next tricky part: From that combo of self knowledge plus craft knowledge, you own your persona – the public roles you play when you captivate and give value to your audiences.
If you don’t frame your own or your venture’s identity, the public will.
“Understand: people will tend to judge you based on your outward appearance. If you are not careful and simply assume that it is best to be yourself, they will begin to ascribe to you all kinds of qualities that have little to do with who you are but correspond to what they want to see. All of this can confuse you, make you feel insecure, and consume your attention.” – Robert Greene, Mastery
Frida Kahlo carefully selected the photographs of her to be made public.
The Dalai Llama sells loving-kindness. He’s an astute values translator (my and Tracking Wonder’s term for “sales person”).
Innately curious about science, a few years ago he also was prescient in detecting Westerners’ curiosity in science and their skepticism in meditation’s benefits. Loving-Kindness needed a new frame.
The unassuming elfin leader asked Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, if he and his team would conduct a series of studies on meditators of loving-kindness. Davidson agreed.
The results were remarkable. Many Westerners reframed meditation as something worth doing.
The Dalai Llama put aside any preciousness about meditation-for-meditation’s sake and let his genius of curiosity and humility serve how the world views his venture. The venture benefits. The world benefits. That’s what matters.
Steve Jobs owned his own persona and shaped Apple’s signature identity.
To recover and own your genius can crack you open.
A client of ours who’s been with us for over a year and a half is making big business and existential reinventions. She went through our ArtMark™ Brand Story expedition. She told our team that the ArtMark™ process was the deepest soul-searching experience she had ever been through.
That’s not a frame you usually have with “branding.” But I know what she means.
By the way, Sally kept track of her creative way with words. She found her genius in copywriting for big brands such as BMW, then as a top-notch creative director, and now as a Catalyst (Passion + Innovation) who helps others recognize their highest distinct value.
Your signature genius resides in you. It taps on your heart’s door every morning to assure you’re letting it out in how you create, relate, make a difference, and make a right livelihood.
It’s a gift back to the world to let it flourish.
Thanks for running with me,