Scenius, or Communal Genius

((Pay close attention, creativity fans.))

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.

Individuals immersed in a productive scenius will blossom and produce their best work. When buoyed by scenius, you act like genius. Your like-minded peers, and the entire environment inspire you.

The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors:

•  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.

Scenius can erupt almost anywhere, and at different scales: in a corner of a company, in a neighborhood, or in an entire region.


Scenius in Art and Science.

The history of art and science is crammed with episodes of scenius. In modern literature there was the Algonquin Round Table, the Bloomsbury Group, the Inklings in Oxford, UK. In art there was Paris in the 20s, the lofts in Soho, NYC, and Burning Man recently. In science there was the Lunar Society in England, Building 20 at MIT, or the ever-spreading Silicon Valley.


Camp 4 is a nondescript, bland, dusty campground. Building 20 at MIT, the home of fantastic engineering exploits like the improvement of radar, was likewise architecturally boring, almost dilapidated. Soho was blocks of unwanted industrial space. Like these other places, Camp 4 was a generic space with flexibility. However Camp 4 is also a walk-in camp. You need to haul everything on your back. That immediately filters out a lot of wannabes. The absence of cars also keeps everyone around. From the outside you would never guess there was anything special about the place.  I think that is true of most scenius.


Although many have tried many times, it is not easy 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 can’t just order this.

What Camp 4 illustrated is that the best you can do is NOT KILL IT. When it pops up, don’t crush it. When it starts rolling, don’t formalize it. When it sparks, fan it. But don’t move the scenius to better quarters. Try to keep accountants and architects and police and do-gooders away from it. Let it remain inefficient, wasteful, edgy, marginal, in the basement, downtown, in the ‘burbs, in the hotel ballroom, on the fringes, out back, in Camp 4….


Scenius everywhere.

Here is a good example of what Scenius can be like in music, by Brian Eno himself, in his studio at Notting Hill, London. Which is no more than a usual jam between music artists-friends on a casual day.

Scenius is not impossible. In fact it can happen everywhere. You just need the right ingredients. You need the right people at the right place. And as was mentioned above, if it happens DON’T KILL IT.

± soundsofnone ±