Can you cultivate business genius?

James Dyson’s “business genius” stemmed from perseverance
You can identify and learn the “innate” qualities of history’s great successes.
We might not all possess the Midas touch of Sir Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, or JP Morgan, but each of us is perfectly capable of coming up with smarter ideas and smarter solutions to business problems. With this in mind, if you want to prosper from more “genius moments” at work, here are three top tips to help.


Traditional business geniuses often excel at “deep looking” – spotting opportunities others miss. For example, in 1901, Edgar Hooley was walking along a dusty road in Derbyshire when he noticed a section that was not dusty. Upon further investigation, he found that it was rock hard and smooth because a nearby ironworks had accidentally spilled tar onto it the day before, and then covered it over with some loose gravel. We have Hooley to thank for the invention of Tarmac.
In the same way, in the 1930s, George Nissen noticed how trapeze artists in the circus would bounce back up again whenever they landed on a safety net. Nissen went on to invent the trampoline.
Next time you are searching for breakthrough innovations in the office, remember that those hidden clues might be closer than you think.


Business geniuses also excel at seeing the future in the present. When Pixar started out, for example, the company was not that interested in how computers worked; it was more preoccupied with what computers could achieve, and change.
Likewise, in 1994, Jeff Bezos (at the time a Wall Street data analyst) could easily have stuck to his day job, but he chose to leave and set up Amazon. This involved months of hard graft, packing and putting out shipments himself, but he realised that internet shopping was growing like crazy, could well become the future, and he wanted to prosper from it. So next time your business is putting the emphasis on following “best practice”, why not stretch that further, and start exploring “next practice” too ?


Finally, business geniuses excel at perseverance. The multibillionaire Sir James Dyson’s first 5,126 attempts to create “the bagless vacuum cleaner” went pear-shaped – before he finally cracked it.
Similarly, Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of TED, could easily have discarded the concept of the TED talk after his first event lost money, but he kept going, and six years later TED re-emerged to become the global phenomenon it is today.
So the next time you hunger for instant results, remember that successful innovation is seldom instant.
Back in 2004, I ran a brainstorming session at the National Space Centre for rocket scientists, designed to help them find Beagle 2 on Mars. The space probe had barely been missing for a month, yet public opinion had already turned on these brilliant engineers and branded the mission a failure and waste of money.
Fortunately, they persevered, and in January this year – 11 years on – professor Mark Sims and his enterprising team finally found it, close to where it was supposed to be, and using a similar idea to one we had explored at the time.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Einstein once said: “it’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”.
James Bannerman is a business innovation expert. His new book Business Genius: Deceptively simple ways to sharpen your business thinking (Pearson) is out now.

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