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Start-up Lessons: Inviting Genius to Tea

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Tea with Genius Sized for Posting

I like to surround myself with geniuses.

You see they PUSH my buttons,

annoy me,

make me go tumbling down

hills of thought so vast and wide that life feels like a roller coaster at times. And don’t be fooled: geniuses are not a rare specimen. They are all over the place. We just need to coax them out of hiding.

I haven't always liked geniuses. Before I discovered the uncomfortable fun that keeping company with a genius can deliver, I liked to be the teacher: the one that others came to for advice, the one that the crowd would turn to for guidance and leadership, the one who staked out the way and led the procession.

Meeting Professor Pretorius changed all of that. A man of few words, he would observe silently for a long time and then ask the most peculiar of questions:

“So what?”

It seemed rather obtrusive at first, maybe even slightly rude. But the question always stopped people dead in their tracks, opening an entire new line of thought. He didn’t ask it only once; he would keep asking it after every response to the previous, “So what?” He would keep asking until the person was able to see an issue from her own viewpoint as well as another, leaving her in a state of openness.

I didn’t quite understand the full implications at the time, but one day during a particularly frustrating encounter with an employee who was simply not understanding where I was going, the penny dropped.

I stopped the conversation, excused myself from the room, and went outside. I soon found I was asking Professor Pretorius’s question of myself: “So what?”

He doesn’t get what I am trying to do.

So what?

He doesn’t grasp what I am trying to explain.

So what?

Maybe I need to change my approach.

So what?

So I can listen to his reasons for not understanding.

So what?

And welcome his opposition.

So what?

To see the issue from his side of the equation.

So what?

I know he doesn’t agree with me.

So what?

But he has expertise in areas other than me.

So what?

He might be right, based on his previous project experience.

So what?

I should give his ideas a chance, and track progress along the way.

This silly little question woke me up to the reality that I do not always have the answers, that those around me are there because I need them, and that they most often know more than I do. I chose them in the first place because I knew in my gut what I needed to fill in the gaps.

You see, this silly little question took me out of my own head and into his. It was a beautiful place I hadn’t yet explored: the thoughts of a genius I had chosen to work with. I decided to stay a while and have some tea.

This brings this series of start-up lessons to an end as my time with The High Calling comes to an end. My three years with this team has been an adventure of tea time with geniuses. Thank you for being part of that. I will miss you all in this format, but the beauty of “online” is that I am not really going anywhere. Other posts in this series:

Image by Alejandro H. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by High Calling Photo Editor Claire Burge.
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