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What Makes a genius? Definition, Characteristics, and Qualities Explained

posted by Hannah on Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Many have argued that everyone is born with equal potential. However, there are some people who seem to have a level of ability or skill that defies belief. These people usually display the characteristics of a genius.

A genius is defined as a person who has remarkable intellectual or creative function, or other natural ability. There are certain historical and public figures that are acknowledged as being geniuses, including Albert Einstein, who contributed greatly to the field of physics. You may have married someone who would class themselves as a genius, but you may think otherwise!

So, what exactly makes a genius? And what common characteristics do they share? To find out, we’re taking an in-depth look at geniuses, including three familiar faces that are widely considered to be the foremost thinkers in history.

featured image genius graphic

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What is a genius?

Being a genius isn’t as simple as being smart or having a high IQ. While intelligence is, of course, a prerequisite of genius status, there are other things at play here – including creativity, self-awareness, and an innate ability to ask questions few others have ever asked.

It’s for this reason why the likes of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Charles Darwin can be placed in the same genius pool as Mozart, Beethoven and Picasso. Because while on paper these preeminent figures are worlds apart, they share a similar knack for pushing the boundaries of human thought and our understanding of the world.

So, defining genius isn’t easy, but it’s safe to say that intelligence, creativity, and outside-the-box thinking all play their part in making a genius a genius.

kid dressed as einstein

What are the characteristics of a genius?

Geniuses aren’t readily pigeonholed. They do, however, share similar traits and characteristics, each contributing to their ability to see the world differently than us regular folk.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key characteristics which define a genius.


  1. Curious mind

 It stands to reason that you need to possess a high degree of curiosity to achieve excellence. By having an inquisitive nature, you are more likely to develop new ways of thinking and uncover previously unexplored ideas. People deemed geniuses often pursue knowledge in an almost obsessive manner, beyond what the average person may consider reasonable.


  1. Abstract thinkers

 People who have genius traits tend to think about problems and concepts in a much more dynamic way. As a result, they are unlikely to accept information and facts on face value. Instead, they will want to defy and test conventional thinking. Talking to someone who possesses genius traits can be tricky, as they may wish to challenge your way of thinking.


  1. Risk-takers

 People who are truly innovative will want to push boundaries. They will not be satisfied taking the safe route, especially if they feel they are close to making a discovery. This approach to life can sometimes mean they put themselves at risk, whether physically or in regard to the progression of their career, but ultimately this can lead to ground-breaking work.


  1. Reject routine

 Typical characteristics of a genius mean they may find it hard to conform to a normal routine, possibly because they constantly have ideas and questions running through their minds. Very often, people who achieve greatness are also nocturnal and will continue to explore their ideas and come up explanations while everyone else is fast asleep.


3 famous geniuses and what they gave the world

Now that we’ve uncovered what geniuses are and what makes them tick, it’s time to put all this talk into context. Here, we’re taking a look at three iconic figures who have come to define our understanding of what makes a genius.


1. Albert Einstein

Few historical figures capture the essence of genius as readily as Albert Einstein. The German-born physicist single-handedly redefined science in the 20th century, developing, among other things, the theory of relativity, which remains one of the pillars of modern physics.

Einstein captures the very essence of genius. Initially viewed with scepticism by his peers, he took risks and asked questions no one else had even considered – fundamentally changing our understanding of the universe forever.

statue of da vinci

2. Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci may be best known for iconic artworks like Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel, but this Italian polymath is, to many, the ultimate genius. Gifted in pretty much everything he turned a hand to, da Vinci laid the groundwork for contemporary thinking as we know it – influencing some of the foremost geniuses in history, including Shakespeare and Einstein.

What makes Leonardo da Vinci unique among his fellow geniuses is his high level of understanding of concepts and processes way beyond his time. Piles of da Vinci’s notebooks have been discovered over the centuries, each full of theoretical prose and complex diagrams pertaining to things which would take another five centuries to come to fruition – from medical surgeries to human flight.

3. William Shakespeare

It’s impossible to overstate William Shakespeare’s contribution to culture, literature, philosophy, and the English language. England’s beloved bard was lightyears ahead of his contemporaries, and his work continues to have a direct influence on writers, artists and philosophers here in the 21st century.

Shakespeare, like other geniuses, possessed an innate talent for thought. Such skill can scarce be taught, particularly in the 16th century, when much of the population couldn’t read or write, let alone redefine English literature for the next thousand years.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this deep-dive into what makes geniuses tick. If you want to learn more about cognitive abilities and behaviours of people, our  psychology courses will interest you. These distance learning courses include an A-Level Psychology course that looks at both cognition and development. If you can’t be a genius, maybe you can try and understand them!