What's so hot about a scenius?

Last time we used Brian Eno's term scenius to help us define the two different aspects of AUDIENCE:

  1. Those people out there
  2. Those people right here

"Those people right here" are the people amongst whom your work flourishes.  As we said last time, throughout really creative periods of history all the cool kids seemed to know each other.  This is not an accident.

Here's a short list of sceniuses:

  • Italian Renaissance: Florence, Rome, Venice
  • English Renaissance: Shakespeare and the gang
  • Enlightenment Europe: Voltaire, Rousseau, Leibniz, Spinoza, Lichtenberg
  • English coffee house scene: Addison, Steele, Johnson, Swift
  • American Revolution: Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton
  • The Cubists, Dadaists, Futurists, and all those: Picasso, Braque, Arp, Dali, Giacometti
  • Harlem Renaissance: Toomer, Hurston, Johnson, Hughes
  • The Beats: Ginsburg, Burroughs, Kerouac
  • Broadway: Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, Lerner, Loewe, Sondheim

You get the idea.

Blogger Kevin Kelly has a nicely done post in which he outlines some of the reasons a scenius will foster creativity in its members, and since I can't say it much better than he, I will quote:

  • 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.

Kelly makes the point that a scenius need not be world changing or large in numbers. The Inklings is a good example of a small scenius, although of course it changed the world on many levels.  Every Thursday night in Oxford, England, back in the 1930s, a group of professors and writers would gather at the Eagle and Child pub to discuss their work and just generally chat.

Member Warren Lewis said, “Properly speaking, it was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections.”

His younger brother, C. S. Lewis, was working on his Perelandra trilogy at the time.  He said of their friend John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's work that if you offered suggestions for whatever he had shared from his new work about hobbits, Tolkien would either ignore you or trash the whole thing and start over.  "You might as well try to influence a bandersnatch," he said.

Some of the Lichtenbergians fireside

Some of the Lichtenbergians fireside

It is this concept of scenius that I think is the reason the Lichtenbergian Society has proved so effective for its members.  Yes, our joke is that we celebrate procrastination and that we honor those who never get anything finished, but in reality we are there to celebrate each other's successes.  The fact that someone will celebrate our successes — and reward us for our failures — is the secret sauce.

So as Austin Kleon directs you in Show Your Work, find your scenius.

Maybe we'll explore ways to do that.  (Or you can buy Kleon's book.  He has some suggestions.)