We live in an amazing time. Breathtaking new innovations are emerging at a remarkable pace and from every direction. In fact, they appear so frequently, we barely notice them anymore, let alone take the time to truly appreciate the wonders before us.
I’m not just talking about the obvious—the cool gadgets and the endless diversions on the internet. I’m talking about all of the incredible advances in medicine, transportation, communication, commerce, globalization, agriculture, sports, entertainment…the list goes on. The rapid advancement of the microchip hasn’t just revolutionized our recreation or our business culture. It has fundamentally changed the evolution of our species, ushering in the “Information Age” and promising to make our world better and easier.
But our world isn't getting any easier, is it? If anything, the world is becoming more demanding, not less. What is going on?
Whether you are a doctor, lawyer, accountant, musician, athlete, journalist, or retail sales manager, everything appears to be moving faster than ever. What used to take months, now takes days. What used to take hours, now takes minutes. But while this compression of time can be exhilarating and enable us to do more than previously thought possible, it can also be quite exhausting. Our rapid advancements are breeding rapid obsolescence. Much of yesterday’s state-of-the-art seems so quaint, cumbersome, and..well..useless today.
This acceleration isn’t just linear. As data and information are more easily and immediately shared with others, every role and aspect of our lives is becoming vastly more complex. The new isn’t just replacing the old, it is also adding to it…in a big way.
On one hand, our advances in communication are a blessing. Just the possibilities of connecting in new and novel ways excites our collective creativity. As more of us are "plugged-in", we are able to keep in touch with so many more people than ever before, regardless of physical distances. It is easier contribute our ideas and insights with one another. We share. We grow. We evolve.
But on the other hand, each new connection seems to generate more noise than genuine information. As this flood of data continues to compound exponentially, we find ourselves struggling to keep up with all this complexity. We often feel overwhelmed. And sometimes, oddly enough, we feel isolated. This brave new world doesn't work nearly as well in reality as it does on paper.
Alas, there are no signs of these trends reversing or even slowing down. Nearly every industry, every discipline, every field of work, study, or even play is getting harder--making greater demands on us mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally.
Our world, our stuff, and especially our tools are facing rapid extinction at the hands of tomorrow’s next new development. Even our knowledge and skills—the stuff we "know" and have always taken for granted—seems to have a hidden expiration date.
But enough about the world. What does all this mean to you, personally?
While we can talk about technology and its societal implications for days, none of it really matters as much as how it all affects each one of us individually. So let's look at both the micro level (what happens to us day to day) and the macro level (the big picture).
Every day, you make hundreds of decisions. But stop for a minute and think about how the decisions you make today are different than those of previous generations. The number of options available to you is staggering—what to do with your time, energy, and money; what to buy, what to eat, what to watch, where to go, how to relax, socialize, or entertain yourself. Your choices abound and are constantly increasing, as is the difficulty in making the "right" or "best" decisions when there are so many other options to consider.
With each new decision, there are more elements to collect, more permutations to calculate, and more contingencies to consider...it truly is an amazing amount of thinking. It is almost unnatural. You aren't alone when at times you find yourself mentally paralyzed and falling victim to the endless, alluring diversions that steal away your attention and waste your time. And I'm not just talking about TV and FaceBook. As precious as our time is, it is sobering to think of how many ways we have invented to distract us from doing what really matters. And it isn’t getting any better.
What about the big picture? What about your place in the world, your field of work, the constant drive to get and stay ahead, and the need to find and maintain a healthy balance of work, play, and family?
In so many ways, the quality of your problems is so much better than those of previous generations. As you get beyond fulfilling your basic survival needs, your goals, as well as the obstacles that stand in your way of achieving those goals, become much more interesting. You aren't directly trading your time for food and shelter (although sometimes it may feel that way). Instead, those needs are fulfilled while you tackle higher order problems--the issues in your organization, your chosen field, or your world.
But these higher order problems require ever greater resources. They demand that we dig deeper and widen our vision; that we tap the minds of others in ways impossible just a short while ago. Whether you are 22 or 62, you are standing on the shoulders of giants, both personally and professionally. And if you aren't, you certainly need to be. Today's problems demand that you leverage their experiences, that you ascend quicker than they did, and that you aspire to reach even higher levels.
But compressing the innumerable hours and years isn't getting any easier. As you tackle steeper learning curves, you also inherit ever greater responsibilities and expectations. You can't help but wonder whether those giants underneath you are tall enough. Are they even the right giants to be standing upon? How do you know?
Granted, our modern world does have an abundance of resources available. Finding them is no longer a limitation. Whether in the form of text, audio, video, or live interaction with others, we have tremendous access to knowledge like never before. It is all there for the taking--the wisdom of the masters, the direction of our mentors, and the insights of our peers.
So what's missing?
Unfortunately, most of us are never trained in the ability to fully tap all of those resources. Greater access is only half of the equation. The modern world is demanding better strategies, tools, and skills to acquire and master that knowledge.
It is demanding better vision, perspective, discipline, and flexibility to make quicker and better decisions--to stay ahead of the compounding complexity and other forces that aim to distract or defeat you.
And it is demanding greater wisdom, balance, and energy to take your ideas and solutions and apply them in your work, play, family, and world.
In short, it is demanding genius.
I'm not talking about the idiot-savant type of genius who can multiply large numbers in his head or hear a piece of music once and play it back perfectly. And I'm not just talking about some computer literacy skills or the latest fad in self-improvement. I'm talking about an updated set of skills and strategies that answers all of those demands--the demands of a world that seems to have grown faster than its own level of maturity can handle. I'm talking about an intelligence that doesn't leave success to chance and circumstance.
Over fifteen years ago, I started looking for my own edge. God’s gifts, while plentiful, weren’t enough to take me as far as I wanted to go. The bulk of my journey, chronicled in chapter four, took me through countless books, home-study courses, seminars, and training workshops. I met many fascinating people, and a few scary ones. My hope was to discover the keys to tap the greater potential in all of us—reliably, consistently, and regardless of one’s goals or prior learning experiences.
Ultimately, the pieces fell into place—in a way I never would have expected when the journey began. This new, elusive intelligence was accessible and trainable after all. Unlike "IQ" and its evil brethren, I had discovered a genius by design, not by birth.
This isn't to imply that it is easy, nor is the path as obvious as it might appear on the surface. There's more to it than hunkering down and doing more "thinking". But there is light at the end of the tunnel. A path does exist. All it requires is the desire and a bit of patience while we solve a few lingering problems in how we approach learning. And we must resolve a paradox that had perplexed me for years—why learning as an adult is so different than learning as a child.
To begin, let me ask you a loaded question—if you had the chance to rewrite your educational experience, how would you change it to better prepare you for today?
Now, before you spend too much time answering that question, understand that it is a very poor question. First of all, you can't go back. So all of the woulda, coulda, shoulda mind games aren't terribly productive--at least not for you, personally. But more importantly, it wouldn't matter.
Let me ask you a better question—is it even possible to fully prepare for a rapidly changing world, years ahead of time, such as we're asking our educational system to do?
If the answer is yes, then how? Certainly what we're doing now isn't working. What should we be doing differently?
And if the answer is no, an argument that I will make in the next chapter, how must our attitudes about ongoing learning change? How must we redesign our adult lives to accommodate a reality that, quite frankly, no one could have predicted when we were supposedly preparing for it? And how must we address the emotional scars of past learning experiences and other obstacles that stand in our way of embracing this new pursuit of genius?