Exploring scenius

Are we all a product of our communal efforts?

I stumbled across the concept of scenius a while back and I've used it as an excuse to go exploring. This post is more about sharing what I've found. It's links. Snippets. YouTube videos. And Tweets. It's here to help you explore, theorize and think for yourself.

🐰 I love going down rabbit holes, and whilst I have consumed what I am sharing, it will take me more time to develop opinions on the concept of scenius. It's also interesting to see where or how it can fit within community as a whole.

My main takeaway at this point in time is that scenius is what can emerge as a result of community building. Whether people realise they are building community or not is irrelevant.

Scenius does not happen without community and it shows amazing things can happen as a result of people coming together. We can't guarantee it, but it is possible.

The visible outcome is the 'genius', but we wouldn't achieve things without the scenius. It's important that we recognise, give credit and explore better ways of what goes on behind the scene.

This also gets me thinking that if scenius arises from community, then what else can we identify that arises as a result of people coming together?

What is Scenius?

Most people stumble upon scenius via Kevin Kelly, so that's where I'll start...

Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes. Brian Eno suggested the word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate. His actual definition is: “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.” Source: KK
“Although many have tried many times, it is not really possible to command scenius into being. Every start up company, or university would like their offices to be an example of scenius. The number of cities in the world hoping to recreate the scenius of Silicon Valley is endless, but very few have achieved anything close. Innumerable art scenes begin and vanish quickly. The serendipitous ingredients for scenius are hard to control. They depend on the presence of the right early pioneers. A place that is open, but not too open. A buffer that is tolerant of outlaws. And some flash of excitement to kick off the virtuous circle. You just can’t order this.” — Source: KK
When it happens, honor and protect it. — Source: KK
"Composer and ambient music innovator Brian Eno, suggested the word Scenius to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate. His actual definition is: “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.” — Source: SceniusFestival

The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors:

[Source: KK]

Mutual appreciation — Risky moves are applauded by the group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure.
Rapid exchange of tools and techniques — As soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility.
Network effects of success — When a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success.
Local tolerance for the novelties — The local “outside” does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.

Brian Eno coining the term...

Genius is an egosystem, scenius is an ecosystem.

Austin Kleon has explored scenius in his books and blog….

Egosystem vs Ecosystem
Our world is an ecosystem in which our only real chance at survival as a species is cooperation, community, and care, but it’s being lead by people who believe in an egosystem, run on competition, power, and self-interest. — Austin Kleon
“Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute, the ideas you share, the quality of the connections you make, and the conversations you start.” — Austin Kleon
There are times and places in which the conditions are ripe for these kinds of sceniuses to appear. On a large scale, you have ancient Athens, or Renaissance Florence, or Elizabethan England. On a smaller scale, you have Gertrude Stein’s salons or Max Planck’s house parties. On an even smaller scale, I think even a single household can be a scenius, like The Wyeth Family.

One thing worth doing is to re-map “geniuses” and locate them within a scenius. Emily Dickinson, for example, is famously thought of as a recluse, but she was really a “networked recluse.” (More recently, the lone genius myth of the painter Hilma af Klint has been questioned.) - Source: Austin Kleon

Further notes on scenius from Austin Kleon

Perspective: Exploring different angles

There's a word Brian Eno coined "scenius" which is about how one person often gets credit for a whole groups achievements , i feel like there is a counterword waiting to be born for the opposite this kind of situation (where one person gets the blame for a whole scene) . Does this already exist? Source: r/words
Scenius is a wonderful idea and much more representative of the reality of how great art and ideas emerge. I also think the best companies manage to create scenius—attracting the right people around the right idea at the right moment. — Source: Why is this interesting?
To say that Thomas Edison invented electricity or that Albert Einstein discovered relativity is a popular, but misleading simplification. These breakthroughs would have been inconceivable without (1) the social and intellectual network that stimulated and advanced their thinking and (2) the people who recognized the value of their contributions and spread them further. A good, new idea is not automatically passed on. From this standpoint a lighted match does not cause a fire. Rather the fire took place because of a particular combination of elements of which the lighted match was one. One cannot be creative alone. These qualities are co-created in an active process of mutual recognition. — Source: Esko Kilpi
The creative era is about interdependence, not about superhuman individuals.

An inspiring person is only inspiring by virtue of others who treat her this way. A good decision is only good if there are people around to agree with it. It is not enough to look at the individuals who seem to be responsible for a new idea. Their contribution, although important, is always a node in a network and a phase in a movement of thought. Creativity takes place in connections and communication. The network is the enabler and amplifier. It is time now for a new epistemology; new ways of talking about knowledge creation. Source: Esko Kilpi

Perspective: Friendly Ambitous Nerds

While writers often describe Scenius as something that emerges or erupts naturally, I propose a different perspective—one that promotes nurturing and growth. Friendly Ambitious Nerds are exceptionally affable connectors driven by curiosity and a compulsion to create and connect. They care deeply and thrive on extensive interactions and prolific output.

According to FAN, for Scenius to take root, one person must be truly invested in finding the weird people on the internet through their work, kindness, and curiosity. This friendly neighbourhood nerd becomes the catalyst for Scenius. The "OG" FAN creates a space for people to meet regularly, hosts parties, encourages others, and introduces everyone to each other. - Source: The Working Woman

Perspective: Mapping Scenius

Austin Kleon dives into real world historical references of mapping scenius…but increasingly I think we can do this with the community tools we create and use

Perspective: Collective brain

Instead of the heroic genius of isolated individuals, innovation emerges from the interconnectedness of our collective brain. Serendipitous discoveries, combinational creativity, and incremental improvements could not happen in a vacuum. By encouraging interconnectedness within our collective brain, we can increase the rate of innovation. - Source: Anne-Laure LeCunff
“Innovations, large or small, do not require heroic geniuses any more than your thoughts hinge on a particular neuron. Rather, just as thoughts are an emergent property of neurons firing in our neural networks, innovations arise as an emergent consequence of our species’ psychology applied within our societies and social networks.” — Michael Muthukrishna & Joseph Henrich.

Perspective: Creativity

Fan > Collector > Scene > Imitation > Creation

We can further reduce these steps down to just love (fan, collector, scene) and theft (imitation). Let me explain this process as I see it.

Source: Creativity starts with love and theft — Callum Flack Design & Development

Perspective: Connections with Small Groups

Matt Webb making the connection to small groups and scenius, which leads to James Mulholland...

Lying somewhere between a club and a loosely defined set of friends, the SMALL GROUP is a repeated theme in the lives of the successful. Benjamin Franklin had the Junto Club, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had The Inklings, Jobs and Wozniak had Homebrew. The Bloomsbury Group was integral to the success of Virginia Woolf, Clive Bell, and John Maynard Keynes, while MIT’s Model Railroad Club spawned much of modern hacker culture. — Source: James Mulholland

Perspective: Communal Creativity

Creativity is not something that often occurs alone: the myth of the lone genius is mostly that, a myth. Innovation requires a spark, a variation from the norm. But a spark alone isn’t enough to make a fire: someone needs to see that variation, take it on board, adopt and adapt it.

All groups of people evolve and create. But some times, places, and communities seem to be particularly prone to creativity – to produce a quantity and a quality of creative innovations that seems breathtaking even at the time, but especially in hindsight. Why is that? What is it about the people involved in them, and the dynamics between them, that makes them so prolific? Source: Communal creativity

Further & suggested reading:

Tweets of interest:

How can we build better communities?

We are on a quest to learn and explore what makes great communities.


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