TIME

THE MAKING OF GENIUS

FRANKLIN, EINSTEIN, JOBS, DA VINCI. HOW HISTORY’S GREATEST THINKERS BROKE WITH TRADITION AND SOLVED PROBLEMS NOBODY ELSE COULD SEE.

BEING A GENIUS IS DIFFERENT THAN MERELY being supersmart. Smart people are a dime a dozen, and many of them don’t amount to much. What matters is creativity, the ability to apply imagination to almost any situation.

Take Benjamin Franklin. He lacked the analytic processing power of a Hamilton and the philosophical depth of a Madison. Yet with little formal education, Franklin taught himself to become the American Enlightenment’s best inventor, diplomat, scientist, writer and business strategist. He proved, by flying a kite, that lightning is electricity, and he invented a rod to tame it. He devised clean-burning stoves, charts of the Gulf Stream, bifocal glasses, enchanting musical instruments and America’s unique style of homespun humor.

Albert Einstein followed a similar path. He was slow in learning to speak as a child—so slow that his parents consulted a doctor. The family maid dubbed him der Depperte, the dopey one, and a relative referred to him as “almost backwards.” He also harbored a cheeky rebelliousness toward authority, which led one schoolmaster to send him packing and another to amuse history by declaring that he would never amount to much. These traits made Einstein the patron saint of distracted schoolkids everywhere.

But Einstein’s contempt for authority also led him to question received wisdom in ways that well-trained acolytes in the academy never contemplated. And his slow verbal development allowed him to observe with wonder the everyday phenomena that others took for granted. “The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time,” Einstein once explained. “But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME13 min read
Author Colson Whitehead Reminds Us To See Ourselves
THERE’S COLSON WHITEHEAD UP ahead, minutes before our arranged time, dawdling on the corner of 126th Street and Fifth Avenue, dressed in slim jeans and Chelsea boots, his dreadlocks cutting a clean line across his back. I’m content to nurse a half-bl
TIME9 min read
Gaudí’s Great Temple
CLIPPED TO THE END OF A GIANT RED crane, the 25-ton panel—a marvel of stone and steel—begins its slow ascent. For the tourists gawking from the Barcelona street below, it’s an astonishing sight, this massive, chiseled slab dangling from a cord as it
TIME5 min readSociety
The Myths About The Mueller Report That Just Won’t Die
WHEN WE TESTIFIED BEFORE THE HOUSE JUDICIARY Committee in June regarding lessons from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, it became apparent from the questioning that misconceptions about Mueller’s findings still exist. The narrati