The Concept of Genius

It has been said that if you spend ten thousand hours of purposeful practice at one thing you will master it. Ten thousand hours at the easel and you’ll be the next Vincent van Gogh, ten thousand hours in the lab and you’ll be the next Marie Curie, ten thousand hours on the court and you’ll be beating Roger Federer with your dominating backhand. Even if you don’t become an icon of your discipline you will be very, very good. Point is, no matter what you put your effort into, as long as you do it and do it with purpose you will find yourself in a whole new class. The idea of doing something you love and spending eighty percent of your time doing it is not a revolutionary idea, yet for many it remains a dream. The ten thousand hour theory attempts to debunk the notion that genius is innate, that we are either born with or without it. It says that if given the chance, paired with the desire to actually spend the time utilizing that chance, any one of us can become a master. UK-born, Canadian-raised, New York-dwelling writer and journalist Malcolm Gladwell has written extensively on the importance of human mental processes and the affects of practice. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success Gladwell examines the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’ and utilizes some very good anecdotes to illustrate how a prodigy can be made – not just born. Gladwell wrote of the Hungarian chess teacher László Polgár and his three daughters, Zsuzsa, Zsófia, and Judit, all of whom become Grandmasters at young ages (Judit became a Grandmaster at the age of 15 in 1991 and is regarded as the strongest female chess player in history). The three sisters’ interest and involvement with chess, which was fostered by their father, contributed to their subsequent genius status. Not to say that some luck doesn’t factor in when talking about famous ‘success’ stories. As one who spends ten thousand hours at one subject may never discover the cure for cancer, earn millions of dollars or be written about in history books. However, the theory lends to the idea that we become what is around us, if given the tools and proper direction. Another interesting point Gladwell makes in his book is that timing can be a critical element for success. Let’s look at two examples:

1. Hockey. Given the desire your chances for success increase greatly if you are born in January, February or March because the cutoff for age-class hockey in Canada is January 1st. Look at player’s birthdates.

2. Out of the top 75 wealthiest individuals in human history 20% of those individuals came from a single generation in a single country – between 1831 and 1840 you would have been in a position to benefit from one of the greatest economic and social transformations in US history.

In a CBC radio broadcast this very same idea is discussed, but goes further to question why genius is often related to mental instability, why we are obsessed with those who have made large achievements, if in fact genius is hard-wired from birth and where mini-genius or ‘eureka’ moments come from. It surely is a grand thing to be regarded as a genius. However, if one is not described by his or her peers as such that does not mean it is impossible to create and achieve amazing feats. As the CBC broadcast notes; our definition of genius can be skewed. Sometimes who we consider a genius today may not have been deemed one in his or her own time. Just goes to show; only time and our own sense of self is what matters when it comes to realizing great things. Keep your THINKING caps on! | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

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