Strands of Genius: You should Listen to Yourself and/or Rosie & Faris, Mental Models, School of Stolen Genius Scholarships

plus our thoughts on Janus and the culture compass

WRITING FROM | Beersheba Springs, TN
WORKING ON | All the things! New remote client training and consulting project, proposals, SoSG relaunch

Jan 10 - Jan 16: Beersheba Springs, TN
Jan 17 - Feb 1: Nashville, TN


January is named after our favorite Roman god, Janus. Apart from the obviously hilarious name, Janus is interesting in a host of intersectional ways for Genius Steals. Straight off the thesis he stands out as the only well-known Roman god that wasn’t directly stolen from the Greeks. Most of the Roman gods we remember today were absorbed from their neighbor’s more successful concepts, in a long process reminiscent of our own Marvel and DC pantheons today.

[To give but one example, the very successful Marvel masked-assassin-with-a sword Deadpool, real name Wade Wilson, first appeared many years after the DC masked-assassin-with-a-sword Deathstroke, real name Slade Wilson. I KNOW, RIGHT?!]

Janus was one of the earliest Roman gods, sometimes called the ‘god of gods’, and he presided over thresholds, beginnings, doorways, transitions, motion and change. The first day of every month and the first month of the year are his. He’s the god of liminal spaces. Not stolen from the Greeks he seems rather to be a composite of some older gods with an ancient king possibly added to the mix.

As the god of beginnings and ends he was the gatekeeper and so had two faces, looking forward and back, into the past and the future.

How can you not love this/these guy/s?

He presides over the beginning and ends of everything, including conflicts, so war and peace, and births, journeys, and commencements. He frames life, universe and everything and rules the moments between. He is the threshold and the binary, endlessly ambivalent, always in the present.

This has been another exhaustingly interesting week in local American politics, echoing around the internet. Janus cannot provide us comfort, only options. Plutarch tell us that “Janus was a patron of civil and social order, said to have lifted human life out of its bestial and savage state”, which certainly seems promising, but to “open the gates of Janus” means war.

It is, was, and ever will be thus. Happy new year, we love you, let’s do this. Aiming for the lifting human life doesn’t seem like a terrible intention for January 2012.

This week, we’re especially thankful for:

Wise Charlie - who are offering you 20% off their mental model deck of cards for our subscribers with the coupon code GENIUSSTEALS | Annnd seeing friends and family over the holidays, however that was possible. Erin&Eric&Noodles, Rachel&Mike&Stella&Chase, Ashley, Wholemeal, Judy, Marion&Nate, Lillian&Jason&Simon&Porter&Vera, new outfits, renovations to the matriarch’s home, more tests and renewed precautions, We Can Be Heroes, Pretend It’s a City (dear God, Fran is fantastic), Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (it’s beeeeautiful), Million Pound Menu [Netflix], music yoga, pressies, pork bahn-mi salad, surprise snow, and the lovely people who invited us on the podcasts below.



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School of Stolen Genius Scholarships || Applications Open

We have seen, time and time again, how diverse viewpoints are key to creativity. They can be the difference in an idea sinking or swimming, because it’s impossible to know what we don’t know, or to discard our biases entirely. Too often, we end up hiring people who look or think or act like we do. Someone claims it’s not a culture fit, as if that’s a bad thing. (This is when Rosie breaks out into The Little Mermaid - ‘a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view…’)

We think it’s important to walk the walk, and want to make sure that we have diverse representation within The School of Stolen Genius.

We’re giving away 68 year-long scholarships, in honor of our clients and partners last year. We let them direct their scholarship toward one of four underserved communities, and undirected scholarships were split evenly among all four groups. Here are the allocations:

  1. 27x BIPOC = For individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color 

  2. 13x Emerging Market = For individuals from emerging markets, where $25/month is cost-prohibitive

  3. 13x Recent Graduate = For individuals with less than 2 years working experience

  4. 15x LGBTQ+ = For individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, queer or questioning

If you meet the criteria above, we hope you’ll apply. If you know of someone who fits the bill, we hope you’ll pass this along or nominate them using the application below.

Scholarship applications are open until Jan 31. Apply here.


We’re still thinking about this, send us your thoughts?

We’ve been thinking about shifts in culture a lot this year, for reasons, and began with our conception of the the pendulum of culture, swinging backwards and forwards, with some idea that the force of motion in one direction creates equal and opposite force in the other. We linked to a piece written by an old colleague of Faris’ a few weeks back on that [it’s good if you missed it].

At the most macro, obvious, political level, it’s hard not to have noticed how in the USA having its first black president seemed to lead to a lot of racism and the president that followed. In part, this is simply repackaging the idea of mainstream and counter-culture, which by definition exist in opposition to each other, shifting over time as some things that are fringe counter-culture get absorbed into the mainstream and monetized and so on.

However, we want to consider this framing more holistically, because it feels like it’s not as simple as a single axis, and it’s not as simple as just backwards and forwards.

In very broad terms, cultures have orientations around certain ideas. One is the idea of the Past vs Future, which broadly maps onto conservatism, which seeks to preserve tradition [“commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation”] vs progressivism, which seeks change for the sake of equality [“support for or advocacy of social reform”].

Another important one is what we are calling Me vs We, which broadly maps onto Individualism vs Collectivism.

It’s not that either are better, or worse, but rather that societies need aspects of both. However, they tend to orient heavily towards one for a time, which leads to the resurgence of the other, thanks to counter-culture. Highly individualistic societies struggle with the collective actions needed to control pandemics, but they also tend to create incentive conditions for people and businesses to take certain kinds of risks, and so on.

Here’s the idea. Whenever a new innovation changes the dynamics of a category, or when massive exogenous events like pandemics force changes across categories, a renegotiation takes places along these axes. Some things are well conserved, some things should changed, some things are about individuals, and some things are about communities. But what? And how much of which?

To use an example we mentioned last week, Christmas was a social, public event until the Victorian era, when it began to shift into the home, becoming a private, family occasion. These renegotiations are always ongoing, accelerated by the aforementioned interventions, and the shifts themselves create opportunities as what is social becomes private, or vice versa, for some parts of the population.

Think about how Facebook started as a privacy-focused, private network, locked to your university, but became a ‘public by default’ platform, because $. Consider how Venmo makes your transactions public by default, and how Public, the share trading app, takes that one step further, turning trades, and gains and losses, into the stream of a social network. That which was Private becomes Public, as it were - that seems to be another important area that is being renegotiated. Uber made private driving public. Airbnb made private homes available to the public.

So, the compass we've been working on helps you see how innovations are moving along which axis, or axes, and suggests where opportunities lie, in either direction, as the renegotiation creates new audience expectations, and backlashes, etc. We are also working on a commerce compass, which shows different business orientations that capitalize on the shifts.

Any two axes can also create classic market map matrices. Here’s what it looks like at the moment. More on this as we develop it. Let us know what you think.

Wise Charlie : Mental Models Deck | 20% off w/coupon code

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Wise Charlie is offering 20% off on the mental model deck of cards for our subscribers. Use the coupon code GENIUSSTEALS during your checkout.


If we can ever be of help to you, even outside of a formal engagement, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

faris & rosie & ashley | your friends over at

@faris is always tweeting
@rosieyakob hangs out on instagram
@ashley also writes for deaf, tattooed & employed

Know someone who could use some inspiration in their inbox? Send ‘em our way!


It's called Genius Steals because we believe ideas are new combinations and that nothing can come from nothingBut copying is lazy. We believe the best way to innovate is to look at the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions.

Co-Founders Faris & Rosie are award-winning strategists and creative directors, writers, consultants and public speakers who have been living on the road/runway since March 2013, working with companies all over the world. Our Director of Operations is nomadic like us, our accounting team is based out of Washington, our company is registered in Tennessee, and our collaborators are all over the world. Being nomadic allows us to go wherever clients need us to be, and to be inspired by the world in between.

Hit reply and let’s talk about how we might be able to work together :)