Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Posts Tagged ‘salieri’

The Genius Gene

The genius gene. I didn’t get one. To be fair, I was born in the deep end of the gene pool for all kinds of really cool stuff. I did get a very healthy dose of the “smart” gene; my mother is still convinced that I’m brilliant. But a genius? Capable of creating something totally new? Something that is earth–shaking, a game-changer? Nope. Don’t have it. I didn’t get that gene.

I got the “Salieri” gene.

You remember Salieri, don’t you? Salieri was the miserable soul who was not only capable of recognizing the genius of Mozart, but he was instantly aware that he would never possess that particular kind of genius. What  made him miserable, of course, was the fact that he was insanely jealous and bitter that his particular gift was the ability to identify someone else’s genius. This is one thing, though, that Salieri and I do NOT have in common. Rather than being bitter and jealous when I identify someone else’s genius, I am instead delighted, simply ecstatic to have made the discovery. Even more so, I am happy to trumpet my discovery, to tell everyone I know about a new genius or a new genius idea. And then I STEAL it!

Any genius ideas that I have ever been given credit for have essentially been derivative. I do have the gift of taking someone’s really good idea, maybe even a genius idea, and making it a little bit better. I have learned to take someone’s genius in one area and apply it somewhere entirely different, in a slightly different way, making something that appears to be totally new in that new place. Now, I always give credit for the original idea. It just wouldn’t be right to either take the credit for the “aha moment” or to fail to give attribution for the origin of my derivative. That would be a little bit TOO much like Salieri, wouldn’t it? It’s just really interesting how powerful the work of a true genius really is, for a true genius creation is applicable in areas that can range far and wide of its original intent.  It’s fascinating how few people do this, take a really good, original idea out of its universe and apply it somewhere else.

Take for instance Skyvision Centers.  From the outside sSkyvision looks like any other high–end specialty medical practice. But if you look just a little bit deeper you notice that Skyvision is actually a consumer service business; our product just happens to be eyecare. When I talk to other physicians about how we run Skyvision I get all kinds of feedback that includes the word “genius.” Looking not too terribly far below the surface, though, and you see lots of really good ideas from other parts of the business world that are simply being applied in a different setting. Our patient–flow principles are lifted directly from Toyota whose manufacturing principles, moving something through space and applying different processes to that something along the way, are widely viewed as a true genius breakthrough in manufacturing.

Skyvision is the first truly patient–centered eyecare practice in America. We built the entire business around one single patient, and every single member of the Skyvision team is borderline obsessed with maximizing the pleasure of a patient’s experience in our office. The office itself is designed to evoke other settings where patients have had a good consumer service experience. Our lobby looks much more like the front of a high end spa. High ceilings and wide hallways give the constant impression of space… elbow room… uncrowded. Even our carpet pattern was chosen to maximize comfort and minimize stress; it turns out that certain patterns make older patients unsteady on their feet and we gave our designers the task of avoiding anything that would cause subtle discomfort.

Not a single one of these ideas is new. I do not own the creation of any single element at Skyvision. What we have simply done is acknowledge good ideas elsewhere and put them together in a slightly different way in a slightly different place. Kind of like what would’ve happened if Salieri had been free of jealousy, free to simply revel in Mozart’s genius.  That’s me, a kinder, gentler, huggable Salieri, content to discover other people’s genius and then maybe  apply that genius in a little different way in a little different place. It doesn’t always work of course. Imagine if Salieri tried to adapt Mozart to the harmonica!  I’ve certainly done the equivalent of that, too.

Have you ever met a genius? A true genius? I think I’ve met a couple over the years. There’s a guy in New York, a neurologist, who may be the smartest person with whom I’ve ever actually spoken. He had about a dozen patents by the time I finished my residency. Of course, there’s also my brother-in-law Pete, the electrophysiology idiot savant. Pete’s actually probably a real, live, across the board genius, but he IS my brother-in-law and, come on now, there’s only so much credit you can give a guy like that who’s in the family! Pete can see stuff in an electrical tracing and relate it all the way down to the electrons changing spin, and then figure out how to fix what he sees with some new, off the wall solution. While he’s doing this, of course, what he’s really interested in is how he’s going to ambush me just before bedtime with something like “so, what do you think about God?” Genius.

There’s a genius in every walk of life. It doesn’t have to be something phantasmagorical like the gates to calcium channels along the heart’s electrical highway. No, it can be something as mundane as trash disposal. Baking bread. Or fitness. My most recent brush with genius has been in the world of physical fitness. That’s right… fitness. The most recent genius I’ve met is a fitness trainer from Southern California who came up with something no one else had ever been able to figure out. Something that no one has been able to dispute, argue, or contest. Greg Glassman defined physical fitness.

Herein lies another one of the characteristics of genius. You’re thinking to yourself, physical fitness, everyone knows what physical fitness is. Sure you do. Give me a definition. Define fitness…I’ll wait…ahem… still waiting… thought so. That genius thing always seems to make us go “of course!  why didn’t I think of that?” So it is with Greg Glassman and fitness. Work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Work, something you can measure. How much did you move how far how fast. Simple. Everything is now measurable. Every program designed to increase fitness can now be observed, measured, and compared.

Like most geniuses Coach Glassman didn’t stop there, though. The next little bit of genius was figuring out HOW to improve fitness in the most efficient and effective way. By utilizing “intensity”, by maximizing power  output while exercising Coach Glassman  as postulated a more direct, efficient, and effective route to producing physical fitness. Unlike most geniuses he didn’t require the help of any “derivative genius” like me to apply his two great discoveries. The creation of Crossfit, the broadly applied commercial version of his two genius breakthroughs, has done quite nicely without any help from me, thank you very much!

Nope, the place where I might be of some little help is in applying Greg Glassman’s fitness genius in the area of health. Not too very different from what I’ve done with the best practices that I found in manufacturing and consumer service in building sky vision. Coach Glassman has recently offered that fitness is a proxy for health; he has actually stated that measuring fitness is tantamount to measuring health. I think there’s a little more to it, just like I think there was a little bit more to applying best practice consumer service principles to medicine than just putting Nordstrom’s shoe salespeople in a doctor’s office. Sometimes the genius idea is just the starting line when it’s applied in a new way in a new place. Not too surprisingly, Coach Glassman and I don’t agree entirely on this at the moment, but that’s okay! Like Salieri I can find genius and geniuses frustrating at times. Unlike Salieri, though, I’m a patient man, comfortable with my role  when in the company of geniuses.

After all, they’re the ones with the genius gene.