Friday, September 5, 2014

Genius employees as problem solvers

[what follows are notations for a lecture for my course "Becoming a Rap Genius."]

Media coverage typically focuses on founders and CEOs. With Apple, it was Steve Jobs., it's Jeff Bezos. With Facebook, it's Mark Zuckerberg. With Jay Z and Beyonce, it's, well, Jay Z and Beyonce.

So if you take a glance at the coverage on Genius, you're understandably going to primarily encounter writings about Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory (and also Mahbod Moghadam). They are the founders and the faces of the company. Oh, and they are also hip, which allows them to serve as important muses for journalists.

In preparation for my courses "Becoming a Rap Genius," I read more than a few, hmmm, more than two dozen articles on the company and the founders. All good. But recently, I've realized that aspects of the coverage fail to address key features of the whole Genius enterprise, namely, for a group of creative people to think of themselves as problem solvers.

For us -- those in our course -- we might do better to read the folks at Genius as problem solvers, as people trying to pose questions to themselves about their product or productions in order to achieve desired and better results. Thinking about them in that way might assist in how we frame and address our own questions. So sure, we can and should view Lehman as a founder, but why not also think of him or Bezos or Zuckerberg or even Hov or QueenBey as an individual trying to think about more new, effective ways of getting something done?   

I teach literature, and as an educator, one of my most direct links to Genius is Jeremy Dean, the company's education chief. Over a year ago, he was asking me questions about how I was utilizing Genius in my literature courses. He was trying to figure out ways to organize and improve how teachers engaged the site.

Dean and one of his Genius collaborators Elizabeth Milch were asking dozens of teachers similar questions and offering suggestions about utilizing the annotation site in classrooms. They even organized a forum so we could discuss the questions and potential answers together. That's where I encountered a community of editors like PerfectRhyme and Genius Educators DrKT, Mrs. Becker, and the incomparable Mr. Varnell (an active and innovative participant on the site). Consider this: the development of a community is one response to the problem of isolation.

I recently visited the Brooklyn headquarters of Genius. What hadn't occurred to me based on the articles I read was just how curious and searching the employees were. Maybe, the company is so young that coverage hadn't delved that deep. Or, what if mainstream news articles aren't designed to highlight the characteristics of curious people? What is "news" doesn't do well at tracking the processes of problem finding?       

I met the writer and programmer James Somers. I'm somewhat embarrassed to tell you that he took far more notes and raised many more questions than me. Like Dean and Milch and like Lehman, Somers has wired himself to pose questions, consider problems, listen to other perspectives, take notes, and consider new useful possibilities.  

If you concentrate too much on the mainstream coverage, you might miss some things. You'd overlook what Soroush Khanlou is doing with Genius and iPhones. You might not consider Christine Clarke's efforts with Law Genius.    

As we continue our annotations on Genius, we might consider what it means to view ourselves as problem solvers in classroom contexts, or as writer-problem solvers. Maybe some of you might eventually pull a Lehman and Zechory and become founders of a start-up.

You're hip enough to do it. You're smart enough. What you need to do now is sharpen your approaches to problem solving. You know, like a genius.  

No comments: