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Culture & Religion

Innate Genius is a Myth

Mozart was a slow learner, Michael Jordan played junior-varsity, and Ted Williams refused dates to practice baseball. It all goes to show innate genius doesn’t actually exist, says David Shenk.

What’s the Latest Development?

New scientific findings support the idea that success is the result of disciplined practice, not an irrepressible natural genius, says author David Shenk. The findings support anecdotal evidence easily found about the most obvious of “natural” talents. While Mozart was a precocious composer, his early work demonstrated practically no originality, according to Temple University’s Robert Weisberg. Consider Michael Jordan: the youngest of five siblings, he was also the laziest, until he reached a point where he wanted to practice basketball at all hours. It is evidence, says Shenk, that drive is an acquired trait. 

What’s the Big Idea?

We live in an age of very invasive scientific research. Neurons and gene pairs now move the border line of scientific advancement, telling us more and more often of the immutable qualities within in us. “Genetic differences do matter,” says Shenk, “and we all have different levels of potential; but the vast majority of us don’t actually get to know what those limits are. For that, we need great mentoring resources, an eagerness to fail and learn from those failures, and an awful lot of time. Talent is a process, not a thing.”


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