Bright Spots: Where Genius Comes From

by Aaron Katler, UpStart’s CEO

“Talent hits a target nobody else can hit. Genius hits a target nobody else can see.”
—Arthur Schopenhauer

This quote was a poignant line in one of my new favorite books, Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places From Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley by Eric Weiner.

The book tackles an important question: where does genius come from? The premise is that genius is grown, not born. Genius, he asserts, is made from a combination of four key ingredients, which is then highly influenced by place and culture:

  • Mentorship – the wisdom of others
  • Freshness – experimentation with new ideas
  • Chaos – being shaken out of old ways of thinking
  • Discernment – the skill to tell good ideas from bad ones

I couldn’t help but reflect on how this framework aligns with our work of building change and creativity into the DNA of Jewish life.

Last month, we shared a piece called “How We Built This: What We Learned from Designing the UpStart Culture Deck”, which explored how we create a culture that, at its best, enables the “genius” of our network and team to flourish. That’s a challenge for all organizations in our field, and we’re excited to share the ups and downs of our process.

Place is more nuanced. In the book, Weiner takes us on journeys to places like China, where he sheds light on how different places—and their origin stories—influence how genius is nurtured. “In Chinese cosmology,” Weiner writes, “the universe has no beginning, nor is there a Creator. There has always been something and always will be.” Genius is about nurturing and shepherding what has always existed.

Our “place,” by contrast, is Jewish community, rooted in millennia of Jewish tradition. Our origin story is quite the opposite of Chinese cosmology—it’s a story about creating something from nothing. “In the beginning, G-d created heaven and earth.” Creation reflects precisely who we are as a people.

My hope is that our work will continue to help build a Jewish community where genius can flourish–a community anchored in the creativity and possibility of our origin story. To do that will take a thoughtful combination of mentorship, freshness, chaos, and discernment. It’s not simple or easy, but we know this meaningful work will bring about a more just, vibrant, and inclusive future for all.

Photo credit: Daniela Micali

Our purpose is to enable entrepreneurs to bring bold Jewish ideas to light. We help them reach Up to people in new ways that are meaningful, more inclusive, and create a brighter future for our Jewish community and the world we share.

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