This is a sincere question, based on things I’ve been mulling over from comments in posts below. In the course of my life I’ve known some very intelligent, capable people, a few brilliant people, and a handful of those I’d genuinely characterize as geniuses. I have never encountered anyone who struck me as a mastermind.
Regardless of intelligence, charm, or capability those I’ve met in life have struck me as muddlers, trying to make the best of the circumstances in which they find themselves, occasionally very effectively but generally with mixed results.
Have other people had different experiences?
In thinking this over some more, I’ve realized that I was insufficiently precise in my question above. The prototype for a mastermind would be Napoleon, someone who with a combination of brilliance, insight, savvy, guile, and the urge to power was able to bring complicated plans with many moving parts to fruition. That Napoleon was able to attract and gain the assistance of other masterminds, e.g. Talleyrand, is a testament to his charisma.
Most of the highly intelligent people I’ve known have been more like Einstein than Napoleon, i.e. disconnected, in this world but not of it.
I’m no mastermind. I might barely have the intelligence and could possibly have the savvy. I definitely don’t have either the guile or the urge to power. I have almost none at all of the latter.
In recent political figures Bill Clinton is frequently touted as a mastermind. I think that Clinton is bright, savvy, and charismatic. Mastermind? I don’t see it. I’m not sure what he’s lacking. Discipline? Vision?
It’s possible that Rahm Emanuel is such a figure. His stage management of the Democratic Congressional races in the 2006 mid-term elections was certainly masterful.
George W. Bush was not only a muddler but a bungler. I doubt that he was malicious. I just think that he was absurdly optimistic.
I think that most people, even highly intelligent and capable people, are muddlers, lurching from crisis to crisis the way a drunk lurches from lamppole to lamppole walking down the street.
Does that give a little more texture to what I’m trying to convey?