The metaphor of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (Latin: nanos gigantum humeris insidentes) is an image of the passing on of the flame of genius from one generation to the next: the younger genius being supported by those ‘giants’ who came before him.
While it can be traced to at least the 12th century, (Bernard of Chartres), its most familiar expression in English is found in a 1676 letter of Isaac Newton:
‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’
We find this journey of genius through the mind of man in science, art and spirituality. For example, the south rose window of Chartres Cathedral (one of the most beautiful monuments of Christian Platonsim) shows pictures of New Testament evangelists on the shoulders of Old Testament prophets, looking up at the Messiah. So the great geniuses of the ages can become our role models and give us inspiration. Such role models are particularly helpful in any mentoring process.
The idea that genius, not just IQ, is important, was revived in our time by a variety of creative thinkers – notably Tony Buzan. Already in his book Buzan’s Book of Genius (Buzan, Tony and Keene, Raymond, 1994) he worked-out what he called the ‘total multiple intelligence genius quotient’, or “Genius Score”. For Buzan it was obvious that genius requires the interplay of both left and right brain activities of all kinds and that it is not just an itellectual or academic affair. It is increasingly clear that genius depends upon the marriage of thought and feeling – head and chest.
‘It is upon the trunk (chest) that a gentleman works’. Analects of Confucius, I.2
It requires humility to realise that we are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, and moral imagination to see the context in which genius manifests.
In our digital age we are confronted with various standardised assessment tools, such as the Digital Quotient, for example (see Mckinsey Company) – which is used for measuring the digitalisation level of companies. All such tools, however valid and useful, will need to be put into the wider context of EQ and PW and our non-digital genius.
Emotional competencies and wise actions are of course not as easy to measure and quantify as something like Intelligence Quotient or Digital Quotient, but have, nevertheless, been measured very effectively in practical projects in large organisations.