Monday, October 11, 2010

Investing in Genius

The MacArthur Foundation recently announced this year’s recipients of their “genius” grants. For those who don’t know, each year the MacArthur Foundation chooses 12 individuals “who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future” and award them each a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant which is dispersed quarterly over five years. They make their decisions based on applicants’ “breadth of experience, excellent judgment, and curiosity.” I can think of no better criteria.

I’m consistently impressed with the diversity of the group they select each year. This year is no different. The recipients include a type designer, a jazz pianist, a population geneticist, a quantum astrophysicist, a stone carver, and even a television writer.

What I find most inspirational about the MacArthur Fellowships, however, is the group’s innovative approach to dispersing money in a way that will make a difference. Instead of giving support to a specific cause, the members of the MacArthur Foundation go to great lengths to identify individuals who have the potential to change the world in exciting and unexpected ways.

Implicit in this method is the idea that we can’t predict what problems lay ahead; we can only make sure that those most suited to overcome the complex challenges of the future are well-equipped to do so.

If ideas are the currency of the future, then financing the leading ideas people of the present is a sound investment.