One Trait That Links Geniuses Like Jobs, Franklin, Edison, and da Vinci

Walter Isaacson has extensively studied people known as “geniuses,” distinct from those around us who are just “super smart,” which Isaacson says are a dime a dozen. Isaacson has written biographies on both Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci. And the one trait that stands out in all the geniuses he has studied is their creative curiosity.

Steve Jobs believed art and science and humanities were connected and refused to only focus on one discipline. For example, after dropping out of college, he audited classes on calligraphy and dance. Leonardo da Vinci was both artist and scientist. He painted the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper but also developed illustrations and concepts in geography, geometry, and anatomy. Isaacson wrote, “da Vinci’s most inspiring trait was his curiosity. The thousands of pages of his notebooks that survive sparkle with questions he listed to pursue.”

“Creative geniuses” share one common trait—curiosity. They don’t limit themselves to one discipline or field of study. They throw themselves into many and find the connections between them. While the vast majority of us, myself included, will not be declared a “creative genius” or have a biography written about us, we can benefit from being more curious. Curiosity and creativity are deeply related. For leaders, curiosity results in finding new solutions by learning from people and areas you would not have learned from otherwise. So here are three ways leaders can foster curiosity in their lives and leadership:

1. Read outside your discipline.

Curious leaders don’t limit their reading to their discipline. They learn new possibilities by reading outside their area of expertise. Of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, A.W. Tozer wrote, “He read science and history with a book propped against his saddle pommel as he rode from one engagement to another.” Wesley even told young ministers to “read or get out of the ministry.”

2. Take on a project outside your job description.

Volunteering for a project team or offering to assist in something outside of your job description can feel like taking on extra work, which can distract from your job. OR it can feel like the extra work will help you develop and simultaneously help you with your current job by infusing you with new learning and perspective. It is your choice. If you view the extra project as an opportunity, your curiosity will develop you.

3. Have conversations with people outside your field.

We can easily limit ourselves to relationships with people in our field because we feel more comfortable and prepared for the conversations, but doing so greatly limits our learning. If we only connect and converse with people in our space, we won’t be exposed to thinking that can infuse new solutions and new possibilities into our space.