What Does a Genius Look Like?

If a Sentinel, with all their innate characteristics wanted to rise to “genius” status, what would that look like? And what about Diplomats and Explorers? We often regard Analysts as the stereotypical intellectuals among us. They have the characteristics we most often focus on when we use the word “genius.” However, what if every personality type has a potential for expressing genius in unique ways?

For the sake of this article, let’s suspend the thought that there are very few absolutes in the world. Let’s talk as though there are pure definitions for us to use. And let’s break with the usual advice and develop a little tunnel vision. We know a lot of aspects of what we can call “genius” overlap between personality types. But for the sake of discussion, let’s pretend there is a pure form of genius specific to the Analyst, Diplomat, Sentinel and Explorer points of view.

Let’s also use genius in its more generic form. We aren’t talking here about the number you get after you take one of those tests. We’re talking about combining a reasonable amount of intelligence with inventiveness that produces unique products, procedures or ideas.

The Genius Analyst

Genius is finding the invisible link between things.
― Vladimir Nabokov

Analyst genius is disciplined exploration, discovery and creation.

This one is obvious. As mentioned above, this is the Role that comes to mind when we consider genius. Although Analysts are found in many occupations, it’s hard to read their profile and not think of scientists with all their rationality. Then consider pop culture where geniuses are commonly portrayed as scientists. (Tony Stark of “Iron Man” comes to mind.) Analysts’ personalities fit our standard image of a genius most closely.

The Analysts traits are those that most lend themselves to deep and original thinking: vision tamed by intellectual scrutiny. Analysts also hunger for knowledge. They love knowing things. They engage their novelty-seeking Intuition trait to get a panoramic snapshot of the world and the knowledge around them, dissect any systems that emerge and use their imaginations to improve them. Whether it involves a complex enterprise or the everyday raising of a family, Analyst personality types are always working through these steps.

A genius can’t just be clever about understanding old ideas. They need to find their own way to be a proper genius. Any Analyst can understand the old ideas. A genius Analyst takes the old ideas and makes something new.

Economists, politicians, researchers, scientists of all stripes often come from this group. These are all areas where adding to or even transforming a system of conventional thought is essential for success.

The Genius Diplomat

The only geniuses produced by the chaos of society are those who do something about it. Chaos breeds geniuses. It offers a man something to be a genius about.
― B.F. Skinner

Diplomat genius is finding new ways to improve the lot of mankind.

Often it’s through writing, teaching and counseling that Diplomat personality types express themselves. Often it’s about taking up a cause. That’s the basic modus operandi of the Diplomat. It only becomes an act of genius when the Diplomat finds some new way to connect human beings, make them better people and to produce harmony.

Tapping into their imaginations and their idealism, the Diplomat genius will find new ways to make things right with the world. This can involve something as everyday as contributing to a new employee handbook that recognizes, not just the obligatory rules of a company, but also covers the human needs of the employees as well. Or it can be as sizeable as helping found a new movement that brings equality to a downtrodden group of people in the larger society.

A genius Diplomat with a talent for writing might create that best-selling novel that helps millions of readers understand the human condition on a new level. Perhaps they might even inspire the reader to live their lives a bit differently. Or in the classroom, it might be a teacher who inspires students to live more boldly and compassionately.

We might define the Diplomat genius as one who finds creative and unexplored ways to uplift others. Add the ability to inspire others to uplift themselves, and the definition is complete.

The Genius Sentinel

Rocket ships
are exciting
but so are roses
on a birthday.

― Leonard Nimoy

Sentinel genius is about skillfully working the established system every day.

It’s easy to dismiss Sentinel personalities as the unexciting workhorses of society. But without them where would we be? They are practical and conscientious by nature, and we are all the better for it. But the geniuses among them can be quite creative.

While there is a certain Sentinel wish to cling to tradition (read status quo), there is still a lot of room for manipulating, improving and intensifying things within that perspective. Genius Sentinels will figure out how to maneuver in an ever-changing world while keeping values and sensibilities intact. For example, they might figure out how to take the new automated phone system for customer service and instill the personal touch that their customers have become used to and still want. There’s room to move within the boundaries they accept for themselves. In fact, there is room to flourish, create and innovate.

The Sentinel genius has the advantage of being “on the ground.” They aren’t so concerned about theory. Need a package in Beijing to be in Chicago by the day after tomorrow? Watching a skillful Sentinel do that can be close to miraculous… or perhaps simply genius. In the moment of need, getting a package door-to-door may be more important than collecting theories about quantum mechanics.

Masterminding a successful business, as Sentinel personality types often do, involves consistent strokes of everyday genius and can make life better for hundreds or thousands of other people. Sentinels are often found in education. The discovery of new ways to make sure that their students learn and get into college could change whole generations. Not all products of genius are sexy nor grab headlines. But never underestimate the power of practical geniuses with unique solutions.

The Genius Explorer

We have no need for genius - genius is dead. We have need for strong hands, for spirits who are willing to give up the ghost and put on flesh...
― Henry Miller

Explorer genius is realized on the run.

An Explorer will dig in up to his or her elbows when doing anything of interest. For them, it’s in the doing. A hands-on, right-here-right-now approach can sound kind of primal and the opposite of genius on the surface. But when you consider all the creative improvisation, craftsmanship and artistry that comes from the Explorer camp, it’s reasonable to conclude that some kinds of genius occur on the run.

We’ve all heard of the artist who spent years imitating conventional work, only eventually to veer off in a unique direction that clearly reveals brilliance. It’s a common idea that before you break the rules in an art, you need to master them first. Nothing satisfies someone with an Explorer personality type more than mastering a craft. However the geniuses among them take it a step further and redefine it their own way.

Picasso’s early work was well-crafted but showed little of the brilliance that would win him a place in art history. We can also guess he developed his breakout work by continuously applying paint to canvas rather than sitting down and writing down some kind of art treatise. His genius came from doing the work of producing art.

Not all Explorers are artists, but all Explorers prefer doing to theorizing. It could be in a studio, a surgical theatre, a workshop, or on a stage or football field. Explorer geniuses learn their craft and then manipulate it until they come up with something that transcends that which has been done before. So while these personalities might not typically write long dissertations on their insights, the products of their virtuosity are obvious to those who will see.


Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.
― R. Buckminster Fuller

Geniuses aren’t just about white lab coats and rows of equations on a white board. And IQ tests are informative, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Genius, in its broadest sense, is about curiosity, courage and creativity. No matter what your IQ, you can tap into your special form of genius by just being open and exploring in your own distinctive way. How can you be a little more of a genius today?