…But You Didn’t: What Really Makes A Genius

Or: Why Columbus Got Mad

“How very wet this water is.” ~L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

Do you ever go “Duuuuh, I could’ve thought of that!” after someone told you something?

Good ideas become obvious after the fact, but that’s the entire point.

After, not before.

If utter the above sentence and have a well-meaning friend like Christopher Columbus, they’ll tell you:

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Let’s hear the man’s story.

On March 15th in 1493, Christopher Columbus and his crew arrived back in Barcelona from their first, 7-month long voyage to the America’s.

They had been the first Europeans in history to set foot on what is today known as the Bahamas, Cuba, as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

They were celebrated like modern day hip hop stars. After Columbus had showed off the treasures he’d brought home, among them unheard of things like the tobacco plant (aren’t we lucky he found that), the pineapple and the hammock, the Spanish royalty invited Columbus to dine with them.

As he was munching on a delicious turkey leg, one of the nobles across the table said:

“You know, actually it was inevitable for us to find this place. We have sooooo many great explorers. In fact, if I’d had a fleet I would’ve done it myself!”

Columbus almost choked on his piece of poultry. He couldn’t believe his ears. Even worse, the rest of the fat aristocrats started chiming in:

“Yeah, you’re right, I could’ve done that!”

“Me too, actually!”

“So could I!”

But Columbus wasn’t having it. It was his day. Columbus Day, for Pete’s sake! (Although technically that’s in October).

He called over one of the servants and said:

“Bring me a dozen boiled eggs!”

Columbus enjoyed the befuddled looks on the blue-blooded faces as he handed each of them one of the eggs and said:

“If y’all are so smart, I bet you can all make an egg stand upright — without any tools or help!”

They all tried, keeping the egg upright with their index finger - then letting it go, holding it perfectly still in place, or finding the perfect spot on the table.

But even when mustering all their balancing skills, no one was able to pull it off.

After watching them fail for a couple minutes, Columbus took his egg, tapped its bottom on the table, so that it slightly broke, and set it upright on the dented end.

As the royals buried their faces in their hands, Columbus said, tongue-in-cheek:

“If it was that simple, why didn’t any of you think of it?”

The lesson here is that there are two parts to being a genius. Yes, you have to look for things, which are true and that few people see. But even if you can spot them, you still have to do something about it.

Genius thoughts that lack the actions to back them up aren’t very genius at all.

This story is also known as “The Egg of Columbus.”

I may have been paraphrasing :-)

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Originally published at www.quora.com.

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