How to become a genius

Genius seems to often lead to strange behaviour. But can acting strangely make you a genius? Pete Wylde tries to find out.

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‘Become a genius in 12 months!’ is the rather bold claim made by the people who run the site According to their web page, if you order their genius training program ‘not only can you raise your I.Q. but you will also start having genius ideas and insights’. You may ‘uncover your inner genius, ‘NO EFFORT REQUIRED’ by ordering a copy of their book, dubiously priced at ‘approximately £31.95’. I decided the real test of intelligence here was to navigate away from this page, as quickly as possible, and never return.

My interest in life’s great over-achievers came about after watching The Aviator, Martin Scorcese’s biopic about American industrialist and renaissance man Howard Hughes. Hughes, who became one of the richest men in the world after founding Trans World Airlines, was also, amongst other things, a record-breaking pilot who designed his own planes and an Oscar nominated film producer and director. He was also rather strange.

Suffering from a severe case of OCD, Hughes became increasingly reclusive, refusing to cut his hair or nails or pick up any object without a tissue to protect him from germs, later choosing to subsist exclusively on chocolate bars and milk and urinate in empty bottles. So how did such a crackpot manage to achieve so much?

With a little research I quickly discovered that he was not alone. The Dutch postimpressionist Van Gogh chopped off his own ear, revolutionary electrical engineer Nikolai Tesla would only stay in hotel rooms which were divisible by the number 3 and Greek scientist and philosopher Empedocles jumped into Mount Etna to prove that he was immortal.

And then, like a falling apple, it hit me. If genius could cause weird behaviour, perhaps weird behaviour could lead to genius? The idea itself was so stupid that, by my own theory, I was one step closer to enlightenment already. The problem was, not only did I have limited resources, I had grown too attached to my ears to want to hack them off and I didn’t really feel up to plunging to a fiery death in an active volcano. Instead I chose to follow in the steps of 3 great men using only what was available between my bedroom and the local shops.


During the late 1500s, Danish nobleman Tycho Brae debunked many theories surrounding astrological phenomena and eventually became Official Imperial Astronomer to Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II. Mr Brae was also a raving alcoholic. In a drunken state in the late 1566, our hero challenged a fellow nobleman to a duel, in the dark, in which he lost his nose. He was also rumoured to employ a clairvoyant dwarf who wore a jester’s outfit, and to have owned a moose, which itself died after drunkenly falling down steps in his house.

To see if I could carry on Brae’s legacy, I armed myself with several bottles of wine and and a notepad and hit the night in search of new constellations. Strangely, I was so consumed by my work that evening, that I cannot remember a thing. When I woke up the next morning on the grass by Deak Square, everything in my pockets, including the notepad full of precise astrological measurements I assume I had been making, had been stolen. The true results of this experiment may tragically never be known, but I do think I understand how that moose felt.


Dr Nakamatsu, the 82 year old Japanese inventor, claims to hold the world record for number of inventions, over 3000 to date (according to him). These include, most notably, the floppy disk, the digital watch, the DVD and the taxi cab meter. But he is not a raging booze hound like Uncle Tycho. Instead, Dr Nakamatsu gets his inspiration by holding his head underwater until he is nearly drowned. At the point of death, his mind fills with ideas, which he writes down on a special underwater notepad. An underwater notepad which he invented.

Not put off by the inconclusive results of my last experiment, I locked myself in the bathroom and began to fill the bathtub. Ignoring my flatmate banging on the bathroom door to use the toilet, I plunged my head underwater and waited for the genius to flow. And around 2 and a half minutes later it came to me. In a flash of siren song and brilliant colours I saw it, the most wonderful, beautiful and desirable invention that would change the world forever. But as I tried to scribble down the details, I realised that my notepad was not a special waterproof one like Dr Nakamatsu’s, and had been reduced to a soggy ball of nonsense. I now had just one more chance.


I felt it was necessary to plan ahead for this experiment and neglected to cut my nails for several weeks, eating only Milka bars and peeing in the empty wine bottles leftover from the Tycho Brae experiment. I decided it might be a tad ambitious to design and build a real plane from my bedroom, so instead bought a child’s Air Fix model of The Spruce Goose (Hughes’ most famous aircraft) and decided to build it without looking at the instructions.

However, gluing tiny pieces of a plastic aircraft together with hideously long fingernails whilst holding tissues to protect from germs is harder than it sounds. I managed to stick both hands to the left wing of the plane and a tissue to my face, causing me to tumble over into several jars of wee. But if I had learned anything from Howard Hughes, it was not to give up. And sure enough, 72 hours later it was finished. Most people have said it is possibly the worst model they have ever seen, but I never expected to be recognised in my own lifetime. Besides, the only real judge of our achievements is ourselves.

It shouldn’t take a genius to work that out.