Daily Dispatch

Don’t Be a Genius, Create a Scenius

A concept I stumbled upon recently was the idea of a scenius. A scenius is like a genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes.

Brian Eno suggested the word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate. His actual definition is:

“Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.”

Eno coined this term to counter “The Lone Genius Myth”, or the “Great Man Theory”, the idea that innovation in art and culture comes from great men working in solitude.

I instantly connected with this concept as I knew how beneficial it could be in my community of music producers and artists. There’s a common joke about how many unfinished projects musicians have, and it’s true. Many of us are perfectionists to the point of never being able to finish anything, a sad, but familiar truth.

I don’t know if I’m correctly applying the scenius concept, but as I was reading the passage which I’ve shared below, I thought of musicians being able to share projects with one another for collaboration. Now, of course, collaboration is nothing new, but often we only share what we’re comfortable sharing, a project that’s close to completion but just needs a few finishing touches for example. My idea was to share everything, our whole back catalogue of projects, ideas, and concepts that are just sitting on our hard drives.

I have applied this idea to my Discord server as it’s currently a small community of like-minded music producers and artists that is quickly growing. I’ve shared a bunch of my old projects to see if there are any diamonds among them that someone can pull out.

This concept can be applied right down to the small things too, like drum grooves, synthesiser patches, or chord loops. The point is to share our ideas and findings, and not to be in the mindset of keeping secrets to get ‘ahead’. The truth is, if you’re relying on secrets to give you an advantage, you were never any good to begin with.

That passage that I mentioned earlier comes from a book I’d highly recommend for all artists, “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon:

“There’s a healthier way of thinking about creativity that the musician Brian Eno refers to as “scenius.” Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals—artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers—who make up an “ecology of talent.” If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of “a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas.” Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of those great individuals: it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.

What I love about the idea of scenius is that it makes room in the story of creativity for the rest of us: the people who don’t consider ourselves geniuses. Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute—the ideas you share, the quality of the connections you make, and the conversations you start. If we forget about genius and think more about how we can nurture and contribute to a scenius, we can adjust our own expectations and the expectations of the worlds we want to accept us. We can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others.”

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