Monday, 14 July 2014


A word on genius. It’s hard to be a genius but it’s probably even harder to live with one. Was Leonardo Da Vinci sparkling company? Was Van Gogh a jolly person to have dinner with? And more recently what have would Steve Jobs have been like over a drink and would you want to be in the same lift as Jeff Bezos?

Supreme talent has its downside. The very clever, very skilful, very creative and very extraordinary can be a complete pain in the neck. We like the iPad but we didn’t like Steve’s manners. Most of the greatest talents in history would be unemployable, in prison or have been sent to Coventry had they been around now.
Simon Barnes in Friday’s Times wonders why we as a nation have such problems with excellence. In cricket the David Gower’s and Kevin Pietersen’s of this world seem too hard to live with. Give us instead journeymen. Better to be mediocre than a nuisance.

There’ll come a point when the unspeakable behaviour of a Mozart gets too much for the average manager. But listen to the music. Wonder at the invention. Marvel at the facility to astonish, delight and transport. At what point would we be happy to burn all Dickens novels and settle for Disraeli’s instead? Or John Donne? Sacked and job given to Abraham Cowley instead. Not as good but quite sound.

What price Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Beethoven? Was Elvis Presley a worse singer as his excesses grew? Forty four years later he still sounds great at a Las Vegas Concert so do I care?

How do we harness and control the commercial Luis Suarez’s we know about? The ill- tempered, plilanderers, drunkards and drug addicts who have an astonishing talent at what they do. We clearly can’t control them but can we get the best out of them? John Barclay said of Kevin Pietersen that he thought England had managed him brilliantly…”after all we got over 8000 brilliant runs out of him”.

The problem is that I know people who are nice with ordinary talent, people who aren’t very nice who have none but I know none with great talent who aren’t different, a bit awkward and mercurial. Genius is wayward. It seems to play by different rules.

But unless we can handle difference, moodiness and erratic behaviour can we expect the best work to be done? John Milton (another genius) was not reflecting on the hospitality business when he wrote “they also serve who only stand and wait”. He was reminding us that backstage there are people who make a big difference - the minders, the great managers and the coaches. At their best and most selfless it is they who allow us to see the greats on stage the Olivier’s, Burton’s and Finney’s rather than safe dullards

Richard French, the ex-advertising man put it like this:-
The real mark of leadership is to be able to manage the unmanageable.
That’s spot on.

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