Gina Rudan: Genius Is a Choice; Cultivate It

By Kathy Gurchiek May 3, 2012
Gina Rudan
An infection from corrective eye surgery that threatened the loss of her sight as an adult propelled Gina Rudan to leave her “comfy corporate job” to fulfill a childhood passion—investigating and writing about genius.

She believes that, while some people may be born geniuses, everyone has a capacity for genius and can choose to cultivate it. That was Rudan’s message during her keynote address at the May 2, 2012, closing general session of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Management Conference & Exposition near Washington, D.C.

Rudan recalled being excited as a third-grader in the upper west side of New York about the new gifted program at her Catholic school and subsequently being crushed when she learned, after her mother talked to the principal, that the solid “B” student was passed over because she was an “average,” though well-mannered, student.

Thirty-two years after not making the cut for the gifted program, Rudan “set out to democratize the word” genius and became the author of Practical Genius: The Real Smarts You Need to Get Your Passions and Talents Working for You (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Her book is based on research and interviews with more than 100 experts, including thought leaders and researchers.

Additionally, she is president of Genuine Insights Inc., whose mission, according to the website, is to “leverage the genius within every individual and organization.”

Genius resides, she said, in the “sweet spot” of the intersection of a person’s “soft” side—values, creative abilities, passion—with their hard side—strengths, skills, expertise. Don’t underestimate the value of soft assets, she said, noting that “during a down economy, you better get creative” to stay competitive.

While acknowledging that IQ matters and some people are hard-wired for genius, Rudan told conference attendees they can cultivate genius by:

  • Identifying it.
  • Expressing it.
  • Surrounding yourself with people who share your same values and lift you up—mentors, ambassadors who serve as a kind of cheerleader, and “fatbrains” or persons from younger generations who serve as reverse mentors.
  • Feeding genius by being mindful about managing time. That includes eating healthy, exercising, having quiet time and tackling early in the day the tasks that require the most thought, Rudan advised.
  • Marketing your paradox by embracing and leveraging your contradictions.

Beware the daily pitfalls to cultivating genius, warned the founder of TEDxMIA, an independent movement to spread genius in southern Florida. Those pitfalls:

  • Routine.
  • Information stress. An extreme example is sleeping with one’s handheld device under the pillow.
  • Living a life without passion and time for play, creativity or values. Play fuels genius and triggers imagination, a component of innovation, she said. Company play dates are scheduled at the LinkedIn campus, she noted.
  • Ignoring or hiding one’s qualities in an effort to fit in with the crowd. Rudan used to flat-iron her long, wildly curly hair in an attempt to look like everybody else.
  • Sleep deprivation.

Listen to your spirit and your heart, Rudan advised, cultivate your mind, fuel your body and surround yourself with geniuses.

She described herself as someone who listened to her heart and followed her passion despite an “intervention” by family members who feared that the decision of this wife and mother to quit her secure corporate job in 2008 signaled a nervous breakdown.

“If I had ignored my passions,” Rudan said from center stage of the ballroom of the Gaylord National Hotel, “I would not be here today.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.


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