This is a book about creating and growing teams that perform at the level of a human genius. And it’s handbook for people who want to be a team member on such a team, or want to be a high-performing team member on their current team. It’s the handbook that I want for myself.
There have been teams that have performed at this level- and in fact genius teams can do things that human geniuses can’t do. These teams have utterly have transformed the world we live in and made it a better place. I’ll try to convince you of that fact. We’ll also look into what genius actually is, what teams are, and what makes a team perform at the genius level.
My definition of a genius team includes making the world a better place. I’m not interested in evil geniuses. I am interested in teams that can help us solve the pressing problems of our time: global warming, resource exhaustion, war, poverty, sickness, racism, and the survival of our species, to name a few.
So how do we do it on command? How do we do it reliably, repeatably, and often enough to make a significant difference to our world?
As a species and a civilization, we need this ability. We need to summon genius when needed. We can’t wait for geniuses to be born. And we can’t wait for the geniuses that are born to decide to work on the problems we consider important.
When we gain the ability to reliably create genius teams, I am sure there will be many ways to do it. I don’t know them all. But I believe we can find them together. I believe we can learn new greatness-skills, work in healthy ways, have world-changing and world-healing creative breakthroughs, do work that is fulfilling and meaningful, and solve important problems.
To start along that path, I want to write down what I know about this topic as an easy-to-use handbook on how to be an effective team member. The journey from being an average team to being a high-performing one starts with a single team member. That member can be me. Or you. We don’t have to be a genius ourselves. Nobody on the team has to be a genius. We can work together to perform at that level. This transformation can happen if we care, if we’re willing to be vulnerable and take the risk to start to change our aspirations, our viewpoint, our behaviors, our habits. It can happen if we take the risk to grow.
Unusually effective teams – genius-level teams – are also unusually creative. Surmounting hard problems requires hard work, but hard work isn’t enough. So this handbook is also about creativity as an individual and as a team.
Being a team member also means being an effective leader. In great teams, people lead and follow as called for in the moment. That may mean creating safety, modeling vulnerability, taking the initiative, raising controversial issues, or teaching these skills to others, so that the team as a whole is more effective. Leadership is a deep subject, so this book will only scratch the surface, but my hope is that this handbook can be used by people to help themselves and their teams move toward being highly effective. I also hope people will share this knowledge with each other, to improve this handbook, ideas, and skills.
Greatness means standing on the shoulders of giants. For me that means science and specifically, the science of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is the study of mental health, as opposed to the study of mental illness. Unfortunately it is still somewhat of a fringe discipline– most psychology is still the study of illness and how to cure it, rather than studying health and character strengths and how to develop them. This is the equivalent in conventional Western medicine of being able to heal broken bones and do surgeries, but not seeing the benefit of healthy eating and exercise.
There is now some research and discussion on how to develop psychological health on an individual basis. You can find science-based books on happiness, grit, resilience, optimism, flow, and more. There is a Handbook of Character Strengths and Virtues that catalogs what is known about character strengths, how to tell if someone has them, and what is known about how to increase them.
But little seems to be known about positive psychology and teams – the study of what makes teams psychologically healthy, high performance, fun, and growth-oriented. This is odd to me since teams are a fundamental unit of social organization in the workplace – teams are how work gets done. There are a lot of anecdotes – business magazines lionize successful companies and tell stories about what makes them successful, at least financially successful. Some industries like manufacturing have practices (like Lean Thinking or the Toyota Production System) but what about industries that rely mainly on creative work? Success is more than just financial success, but even on that level can we take what we know about a productive team or company and repeat its success with any level of confidence? Probably not, since exceptional teams and companies are rare.
So this is a book that will attempt to provide a cookbook for how to do that. It will cover key points about positive psychology as they relate to teams, viewpoints that help one head in the right direction and stay inspired and healthy; and practices that one can do by oneself or ideally with others… practices that will help transform you and your team.
This is part of the book Summoning Genius.