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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Marks of Genius

The Solipsist is shamefully behind in his reading.  This morning he just read the November/December (2008, that is) issue of Mental Floss.  He's striving to catch up.

At any rate, this issue was dedicated to the "New Einsteins," those creative thinkers in a variety of fields who are reinventing the world, or at least their little corners of it.  The Solipsist was a bit taken aback by the inclusion of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A's.  Not that he isn't a "baseball genius"--he is.  But, frankly, he's old news.  Beane, by way of background, achieved a certain degree of fame outside of baseball several years ago as the subject of the book Moneyball (Michael Lewis), which chronicled the GM's rise to the top of the baseball-executive pantheon.  His innovation?  While running the Oakland A's, Beane has managed to keep a fairly low-market, low-revenue team at or near the top of the standings every year.  He's done this by making shrewd deals, focusing not on the spectacular big-name types (think, Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds), but on the slow-but-steady, unspectacular professionals who do the little things (like get on base) right.  The "Moneyball philosophy" has since been adopted by general managers throughout the major leagues, who have to greater or lesser extents achieved Beane-like success.  Still, this has been going on for years.  Why hail Beane as a genius at this point in time?

And more to the point, what is "genius"?  This question was posed to several of Mental Floss's "New Einsteins," and their responses indicated their belief that "genius" is best described as some sort of non-linear approach to problem solving, an ability to see new connections.  So the mark of genius is, for example, not putting two and two together and getting four, but putting two and two together and getting five, or 63--or putting two and mango together and getting electricity.  No, we don't know what it means either, but maybe that's because it's just too ingenious.

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