The 5 Geniuses You Meet in Business School

diamond About the author: Jeremy Diamond grew up in New Jersey and studied film at American University. Before coming to Foster, he worked in TV production and post production for Discovery and Animal Planet. Since joining the Foster MBA class of 2017, he has served on four club boards, interned with a robotics startup, judged a case competition, and formed lifelong friendships. He is not going to tell you which of these five categories he thinks he falls into.

I’ve just finished my first year at Foster and I am still blown away by so many things: Our wonderful professors, the incredible opportunities we have, and how much we’ve all learned in such a short time. Most of all, I am in awe of my incredible classmates. I learn something new from them every single day. There are 128 unique individuals in the Class of 2017. It would take me months to lay out exactly why each of my classmates is wonderful. But, broadly speaking, I have met five different types of genius at Foster.

The Organizational Genius

Who they are: Every MBA student becomes a calendar wizard very quickly.

The Organizational Genius is a wizard of the calendar, a guardian of the Gantt chart, a productivity paladin, and a champion of color-coded lists. Of the five types of genius on this list, this is the easiest one to spot.

What you can learn from them: There are a lot of tangible skills you can pick up from an Organizational Genius. It’s easy to get the “what” and “how” of productivity from them. If you ask for templates, they’ll be more than happy to both build them for you and show you how they work. But the single most important thing you can learn from an Organizational Genius is good habits.

When you’re on a team with an Organizational Genius, offloading logistics and time management to one person — especially when that person is willing — is extremely tempting. Do not waste the opportunity to learn why they do the things they do. Take an active organizational role. The Organizational Genius can help you on your journey to productivity and the team environment is excellent at forcing you to stick with your new habits.

The Social Genius

Who They Are: “Ah ha,” you might say. “These people are easy to spot. Charisma is practically radiating off of them. They’re the type-A power networkers. Quick-witted and always ready with a handshake and a pat on the back.”

And I might say you’re in the ballpark. Yes, most Social Geniuses are great networkers (although many of them defy the type-A stereotype). They might be incredibly popular. But confidence and charisma do not make someone a social genius. What does? Listening.

Social Geniuses understand everything you say and everything you don’t. They are masters of body language, tone of voice, and subtext. They demonstrate emotional awareness — of themselves, of individuals around them, and of the team’s collective emotional state.

What you can learn from them: The value of emotional awareness and excellent listening is self-evident, but our listening habits are nearly automatic. It can take years to change this behavior. One of the best ways to start is to find small ways to learn and improve.

When you work with your team, set limits for yourself that force you to listen — like hitting a personal mute button for one minute at a time or prompting a teammate to speak if they haven’t contributed during a meeting. Ask questions. Focus on drawing out your teammates instead of forcing out your own ideas.

In addition, make a point to have conversations with Social Geniuses — or watch them in conversation with other people. Notice where they look and how they physically respond to new information.

The more time you spend developing yourself socially, the better you will be at identifying emotional soft spots. As much as that skill will benefit you in your professional life, it can have an even greater positive effect in your personal life.

The Quantitative Genius

Who they are: Quantitative Geniuses seem relatively straightforward: they command numbers. You could even say they commune with numbers. And those who approach numbers with religious devotion need to be exceptionally careful to consider problems from many different perspectives.

But even here, there is ambiguity. Some quants understand the Capital Asset Pricing Model deep in their bones but just don’t click with financial accounting. Others are world class mental mathletes and Excel novices. It doesn’t matter if you can see numbers flying around in space. If you’re the only one who can see them, how valuable is your skill?

That’s why the true hallmark of a Quantitative Genius is the ability to explain their work to everybody else — and why the most effective quants can come from the most unexpected backgrounds. When the rest of the team is flummoxed by a finance case, this person’s clear answers, thoughtful explanations, and creative analogies show how seemingly-disparate pieces fit together.

What you can learn from them: This is about more than hard skills like financial modeling, linear programming, or advanced statistics. Your classmates can help you with these, but your professors are bona fide authorities on these subjects.

The Quantitative Genius uses numbers to weave stories. They hold your attention by tightly structuring that story with a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end. It may be counterintuitive, but the biggest thing you can gain from spending time with a Quantitative Genius is confidence in your ability to relate complex ideas as digestible stories. Once it starts to click, you may realize you had quantitative superpowers all along.

You might not get to Stephen Hawking’s level, but you can at least approach They Might Be Giants.

The Creative Genius

Who they are: This is the most difficult of the five to pin down. “Creativity” itself is nebulous and open to interpretation, especially in the context of business school. It can be difficult to express yourself in an environment with so many opportunities to go wrong — even in situations where ambiguity is expected.

And yet the Creative Genius manages to stand out because they speak, write, and otherwise express themselves with a voice that is unmistakably their own. They propose ideas and answers that are neither safe nor easy. Their ideas don’t always work out in practice. They are loathe to go “by the book.” But when they hit on something, they hit on something big.

What you can learn from them: The Creative Genius was not born with that voice. They developed it over many years — and they likely had help in the process. There are well-worn methods and tricks that help us unlock our creative potential or look at things in a different way. The Creative Genius wants to help you unlock that potential. They can teach you the right questions to ask and when to ask them.

And since creative problem solving is in high demand and low supply, these could be some of the most important questions you ever ask.

The Motivational Genius

Who they are: Why do we believe in people? Why do we follow them? Is it because they’re impossibly smart? Impeccably organized? Charismatic and wonderful to be around? Possessed with creative vision?

I would argue that none of those traits are sufficient to motivate people. In fact, the Motivational Genius doesn’t rely directly on skills; often, they’re not even aware that they are doing anything exceptional. They believe they’re just living their lives, working hard, and doing what they can. And that’s the key.

Being a Motivational Genius is about having strong, authentic values and living those values to their fullest every single day. For many people, this is exhausting. The Motivational Genius accepts the challenge.

What you can learn from them: In keeping with what characterizes them, the best thing you can learn from the Motivational Genius is the power of constantly examining your personal values. Are your decisions internally coherent and aligned with what you want out of your experience? What do you want out of your life?

Spend enough time with the Motivational Genius and these questions will become second nature. You will become a more confident decision-maker. And if you’re truly confident in your decisions, people will pick up on that and respond to it.

I use the word “genius” affectionately, but, with extremely rare exceptions, nobody possesses the unique mental powers this honorific requires. I believe everyone exhibits brilliance in at least one of these categories.

These geniuses exercise their talents so naturally that it’s easy to forget how hard they worked to build their skills. This is the best opportunity you will ever have to pick up these skills in a safe, supportive environment. Use it. Learn from the best. Then pay it forward and share your genius with others.