I am currently reading a very thought-provoking book called ‘The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told about Genetics, Talent and IQ Is Wrong’ by David Shenk.
According to Shenk, the notion that genius is innate is flawed. Instead, we should respect that achieving something special comes about as a result of a long process which involves practice, persistence and drawing on / a wealth of past experiences to be able to create something new or become ‘unique’. We should also regard Shakespeare, da Vinci, Mozart, Beethoven, Tesla and Einstein as perhaps ordinary individuals who were pushed very hard by their parents to study a lot before they could even walk. In Shenk’s eyes, hard work and focus can enable true genius to flourish.
If we are to believe what we read about Ludwig van Beethoven’s childhood, could he have been little else but a genius? Beethoven was disciplined if he didn’t live up to his father’s expectations. One biography reveals that Beethoven’s father often woke him up at midnight to practice, even when he was four years old. So, we must consider the backgrounds of “prodigies” before we rush to use the word ‘genius’.
Wolfgang Mozart’s father, Leopold, was yet another overbearing parent. Leopold realised that he would not become a great composer himself so he passed the buck (passed the task) to his children. Wolfgang practised playing music constantly from the age of three.
The process behind achieving greatness is an arduous (hard) one and I think that many of us fail to realise this. In sports, I believe that Tiger Woods and Ronnie O’Sullivan would not have been the best in the world at golf and snooker, respectively, had they not practised for hours on end every day to hone their skills. Woods and O’Sullivan also have an abundance of innate ability which clearly went hand in hand with practice to help them be the best in the world.
I think the reason why I do not have the motivation to develop my guitar skills is because, if we are to believe Shenk, it can take hours and hours of practice per day over a period of eight to ten years to become an expert at something. If I learn something, I want to do it properly.
Perhaps I had better start practising right now before old age sets in…
Words & Phrases
- Thought-provoking - Stimulating careful consideration of something.
- Notion - A belief or idea.
- Innate - A quality or ability that you are born with.
- Flawed - Characterised by weakness.
- Come about - Occur, arise.
- Persistence - To continue to do something, despite difficulty or opposition.
- Draw on - To use something that you have already gained.
- A wealth of - A large amount of.
- In somebody’s eyes – In someone’s opinion.
- Flourish - Develop successfully.
- Little else but – Not much more than / not much else except.
- Live up to - Fulfil one’s expectations.
- Child prodigy - A person, especially a child or young person, having extraordinary talent or ability.
- Overbearing - Overpowering, tyrannical, trying to control people.
- Pass the buck (to someone) - Pass the responsibility for doing something to someone else.
- Arduous - Extremely difficult and tiring.
- Respectively - Of two or more items, with each relating to something previously mentioned, in the same order as first mentioned.
- Hours on end - For many hours, continuously.
- Hone - Develop.
- Go hand in hand - They exist together and are connected with each other.
- Set in - Begin (and continue).
- Do you think the word ‘genius’ is overused? Who do you admire for their skill and creativity?
- What do you think about the argument that genes matter very little when it comes to someone becoming a genius?
- Would you be prepared to be put in ten years of hard work to become great at something?
- Describe one ‘genius’ you admire in the context of the arguments in the comments below.