I just finished an excellent piece in a recent New Yorker, In The Air.
The basic observation of the article is that our conception of genius is that it is extremely rare and that innovation is resistant to being mass produced, while the evidence to be found in the real world actually supports the notion that most innovation happens in multiples and is not dependent on individual genius. In short, the telephone, calculus, logarithms, etc… all of these would have been more or less invented “right on time” had the person we now attribute as being the “inventor” or “discoverer” of these technologies and concepts never been born, because the climate and zeitgeist was “prepped” for these concepts to be birthed.
I’ll let the article speak for itself.
It provides great food for thought, especially when viewing current technology trends. As humans, we tend to simplify history and technological advancement as having a singular, manifest destiny like march from least evolved to state of the art – when in fact, history and technology are actually messy incremental affairs. I’ll try to provide a link to a book I read as a graduate student called The Whig Interpretation of History in a later edit of this post that describes just this phenomena in historiography.
Whether we are considered “visionary” or “genius” depends as much on luck, who is first to the patent office or can act as a “first mover” than on intellectual prowess – at least with regard to scientific genius, not necessarily creative genius which will always singularly belong to the artist, musician, or creator.