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The Lone Genius Myth

Great article in Slate on the lone Genius Myth. From our first days relationships shape our experience, our character, even our biology. So why are we so fascinated with the lone hero?

The other reason the lone genius myth persists is that “collaboration” gets defined so narrowly, as though the only relationships that matter are between peers of roughly equal power. In fact, it is often the most independent virtuosos who need relationships the most. Take golf, for example. By PGA tour rules, professional golfers play the links without coaches or managers. So the role of psychologist, strategist, and counselor falls to the caddie. Tiger Woods, now infamous for his promiscuity, has stuck for nearly 11 years with caddy Steve Williams. Their bond is so tight that Williams not only supports his boss but taunts him—and even misleads him. At the 2000 PGA Championship, on the fairway of the 71st hole, Woods needed a birdie to catch the leader. Williams calculated 95 yards to the flag—but he told Woods 90. “Tiger’s distance control was a problem,” Williams explained to Golf magazine. “So I would adjust yardages and not tell him.” Woods ended up hitting the ball inside two feet from the cup and went on to win. Williams has said that he gave Woods incorrect yardages for the better part of five years. …

The human mind depends on narrative, characters, and concrete action, while the idea of interdependence easily dissolves into abstraction. Say, for example, we trace the influences on Einstein, and draw concentric circles around him, first with his immediate peers (including Michele Besso, with whom Einstein worked out the theory of relativity in conversation), then to the scientific circle of his era, then to the influences of the previous generation. Where do we stop—with the ancient Greeks? Even if you acknowledge the depth and breadth of Einstein’s connections, it’s near irresistible to call him a genius and go on your way. Give an audience a big enough ensemble cast, their eyes will naturally seek a star.

Continue Reading @ Slate

This article mentions two books that look interesting: Where Good Ideas Come From and The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong.