By Tim Hayes

Paul McCartney woke up one morning and had the melody to “Yesterday” – a number one song for the Beatles, and the song that’s been covered by more artists than any other in history – fully formed in his head.

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones opened his eyes in the middle of the night while in a motel room in Clearwater, Florida in 1965, picked up his guitar, turned on a tape recorder, played a riff that had jumped into his head, and went back to sleep.  When he listened to the tape the next morning (with a few seconds of his groggy guitar playing, followed by 45 minutes of snoring) he and Mick Jagger then wrote “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” named the number two rock-and-roll song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. (Interestingly, the number one song was “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan).

As their very first musical collaboration continued its tryout run on its way to New York in 1943, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein knew they needed a spark, a rouser, to kickstart the story.  According to Broadway lore, they stayed up all night and in a 30-minute eruption of inspired artistry emerged with what not only became an American classic, but the new title of the play, and even an official state song – of course, “Oklahoma!” 

[By the way, let’s pray that the positive message of that song, connecting people to each other and the land, serves as a source of courage, hope, and healing in that tornado-ravaged state today.]

But why reference these three instances of nocturnal musical bursts of inspiration?  These random acts of genius?  Simple.  To explain that some things just can’t be explained.  So it’s smart to be open to sudden tidal waves of ideas and mental breakthroughs.

The nature of genius lies so far out, away and apart from our day-to-day level of thought, that it can be easy to assume that it never touches us.  But goodness knows, the potential sure exists for greater brain output.  

There’s the urban legend that humans only use 10 percent of their brains, but any credible scientific resource would refute that notion.  We actually use all parts of our brains all the time, just to function, to stay upright, to make and pour and drink the coffee, not to mention figure out solutions to problems and to recall Grandma’s home-baked bread from 40 years ago just from a familiar smell.  The real variable comes in considering whether we use our brains to their full potential.  And that’s where the shortfalls can become clear and believable.

The 19th Century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously said, “Talent hits a target that no one else can hit.  Genius hits a target that no one else can see.”  In the world of commerce, moments of genius happen when someone figures out a fresh way to advance a business, or identifies the one element of a plan that’s been holding back progress on a larger scale, or points to a new goal that’s easier to achieve and brings higher value to all parties involved.  It happens every day.

I’m not ready to say that every person working at the “Genius Bar” in the Apple Store indeed deserves that designation.  But I will say that, as a company, Apple has shown how genius works.  The late Steve Jobs once noted, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”  He defined Apple’s purpose as “filling a gap customers didn’t know they had.”

That’s living up to Schopenhauer’s notion of hitting a target that no one else can see.  Jobs had that skill in spades.  It remains to be seen whether his successors have been cut from the same cloth.

Anybody who’s spent more than five minutes with me knows it may be a long shot in my case, but I believe genius is attainable.  It’s there, lurking perhaps, but it’s available to everyone.  The brain’s a muscle too, so it needs to be stretched and exercised on a regular basis.  A toned mind could be the source of the next burst of genius.  From you.  Remain open to the possibility.

Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting