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Flow / Fiero > Scenius, Genius and Deep Work (August 2022)

Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
👋 Hey there,
When I ran into the concept of scenius, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It sounded almost perfect for a collaboration advocate and practitioner like myself.
Brian Eno coined the term and conveys it brilliantly — even in a less than two-minute video:
Brian Eno on SCENIUS
Brian Eno on SCENIUS
My joy in finding this concept wasn’t about putting collaboration first but the demystification of the concept of “pure genius”.
In the context of this article, I’m going to focus on problem solving and innovation, but the concept reach is much broader.
The myth of the lone wolf
People tend to associate big achievements with one person. A lone wolf that shows the rest of us the “true path”. And it’s easy to understand this phenomenon.
We know that some individuals stand out from the crowd for many reasons, but we usually forget about the importance of the environment surrounding them.
We tend to value the creative intelligence of an individual (genius) over the creative intelligence of a group or community (scenius).
However, in our day-to-day, things are a bit different.
The challenges we face in today’s highly uncertain society have made people more aware of the benefits of collaboration. The problem is that they often become too attached to it; they want to do everything collaboratively. And they miss the forest for the trees.
There is a time for everything.
Playing Together
We must sense what works better in each situation and act accordingly. Even when working collaboratively, giving space to the individual is vital.
The alternation between individual ideation and group work has three clear benefits:
  1. It eliminates the alpha effect (where one individual leads the pack) that usually occurs in brainstorming and focus group sessions.
  2. It brings better ideas to the table.
  3. It allows for group exploration of those ideas.
Study after study has found that individuals outperform groups when it comes to generating ideas. Quoting Teresa Torres on Continuous Discovery, “Individuals generated more ideas, more diverse ideas, and more original ideas.”
However, we are better at generating ideas alone, but better at evaluating them as a group.
But when to work solo or in a group?
Let’s borrow a diagram from the book Gamestorning to clarify this topic.
Usually, a collaborative session works in three acts — diverge, emerge and converge. Let’s zoom in on it:
  1. In the first act, you want to free up ideas — and usually, it’s better to start from the get-go with an individual exercise.
  2. In the second act, you want people to work on those ideas as a group — but sometimes it’s fruitful to bring one or two individual exercises into the mix.
  3. In the final act, participants can work individually or in groups depending on the session’s objective. That said, you’ll often use an individual exercise to make decisions about the most valued outputs of the session (e.g., voting).
See this only as an example of how individuals and groups can play together. Collaboration goes far beyond collaborative sessions. And individual work is much more than short bursts between collaborative dynamics…
Deep we go
The individual’s contribution to any creative work is much deeper than alternating modes. If collaboration is a great mind opener, deep work is a kick-ass worker.
We all need more extended periods to abstract from our surroundings and create space to focus on the work at hand. We produce our best work when we reach a state of flow; an energized focus where we are undistracted and at our best.
Nowadays, many organizations are so into the collaboration kool-aid that they forget that individuals need “margin” to make things happen.
One of the reasons why remote work works (no pun intended) is because it gives people space to produce their best work.
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To sum up, creating something impactful requires both our individual and social sides. The answer resides in the balance between them. And finding the right timing of when to choose one or the other makes all the difference.
Project Spotlight
Braintrust
Braintrust is the first user-owned talent network, and aims to align incentives and redistribute value to talent and organizations. In other words, cut the middle man and create value for all parts instead of extracting it for one centralized entity.
They have some of the most well-known brands as clients (Nike, Porsche, Nestlé, …) that pay a 10% fee for each contract. Talent doesn’t pay anything. Yes, 0, nada.
Did I mention this is a Web3 project? They also don’t feel the need to say it all time. They prefer to highlight the value created in the ecosystem. Something that many other projects should follow.
For future of work geeks like myself, Braintrust is a clear example of how things can unfold, how to create value for all parts, and how to communicate a novel value proposition straightforwardly.
You can check the project’s current state on their excellent Network Dashboard.
Toolbox
Soulver
Soulver is one of these tools I didn’t know I needed until I found it, and now I use it every day.
Its creators describe it as “a better way to work things out than a classic calculator, and a more lightweight tool than a spreadsheet”. For me, it’s the tool of choice when I need to “play with numbers and words” — from currency conversion to drafts of budgets.
They have a trial version, so give it a go and tell me what you think.
Five prompts for Daniel T. Santos
Daniel T. Santos
A book that inspired you
The Empathic Civilization, by Jeremy Rifkin
A concept that simplifies your life
Focus and Resilience:
Taming anxiety is about channeling where to spend energy. One should only spend energy on things for which one is responsible.
I’ve spent most of my life not understanding that energy tends to be scarce. It was only when I became a parent that I started to be aware that my energy was finite and that I should use it more wisely. I’m still trying to learn how to do it consistently, though.
A quote worth reflecting on
Since sharing is caring, I have two quotes on two different topics that maybe are not so unrelated:
  1. “No one finds a justification for life within themselves. We intuit things in ourselves, but we must remember that the word ‘justification’ comes from justice. To justify means to show why it is just. What makes it right for us to face life is others. We need to end this tyranny of individuality.” — Valter Hugo Mãe
  2. “It’s an undeniable axiom that experiences have more meaning when they are shared. When we take the time to look for the humanity in others, we will seek to create solutions that honor our shared life. We will grow to learn that where our design stops, our true, tangible experiences begin. Only there we will find freedom.“ — Jeremy D. Cherry - Designing for Hope
A performance you won’t forget
After more than two years of waiting, I recently went to the theatre to see a play named “Catarina and the Beauty of Killing Fascists” (original ”Catarina e a Beleza de Matar Fascistas”), directed by Tiago Rodrigues. It’s about a family meeting to uphold their annual tradition, which has been kept for over 70 years: killing fascists. However, this year Catarina refuses to kill the fascist her family kidnapped. The play ends with an off-script interactive part between one particular actor, the fascist, and the audience. We end up hearing a xenophobic, misogynistic and frankly disgusting speech from that actor, which lasts for ages. In an apparent attempt to get the audience to riot and silence this actor, insiders from the production seem to incite the rest of the audience to speak out against that speech by insulting the actor and trying to silence him. I almost joined the protesters, but I remembered it was a play. Honestly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Truly remarkable!
A learning journey that made the difference
Living in India has taught me to embrace the flow instead of fighting it, even when it feels chaotic and there’s no sense of logic in what I’m doing or where I’m going. Like driving a rickshaw in the busy streets of Mumbai, you must focus on only one thing: not hitting anything or anyone ahead of you and using the honk as a sonar. I always think of that driving experience demonstrating how collective instinct works. Since then, my instinct has worked like my sonar.
Bookshelf
“Ultralearning is the best book on learning I’ve ever read. It’s a beautifully written, brilliantly researched, and immediately useful masterpiece.” — Barbara Oakley
Scott Young is known for some fantastic achievements like learning MIT’s four-year computer science curriculum in twelve months and learning four languages in one year (yes, four).
In Ultralearning Scott alternates the latest research on the most effective learning methods with the story of other ultralearners like himself.
The book is structured around what he calls call the ultralearning principles:
  1. Metalearning: first draw a map.
  2. Focus: sharpen the knife.
  3. Directness: go straight ahead.
  4. Drill: attack your weakest point.
  5. Retrieval: test to learn.
  6. Feedback: don’t dodge the punches.
  7. Retention: don’t fill a leaky bucket.
  8. Intuition: dig deep before building up
  9. Experimentation: explore outside your comfort zone.
Although this is a book on hard skills, applying some of its principles will also help you to develop the so-called soft/human skills.
Quotes worth pondering
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” — Alan Watts
“Three Things To Remember. As long as you’re dancing, you can break the rules. Sometimes breaking the rules is just extending the rules. Sometimes there are no rules.” —Mary Oliver
Pointers
Hell Yeah or No
Organizing for the future: Nine keys to becoming a future-ready company
Ten Ways to Breathe Meaning into Existence
On Repeat
Sensations of Cool
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Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta @gustavocpimenta

Thoughts and pointers from a proud generalist powered by radical diversity.

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