What do Mozart, Tiger Woods, Ted Williams, and Michael Jordan have in common? While we often hear the term “child prodigy” ascribed to at least two of them, that characteristic doesn’t apply to all. We know that each of these individuals showed phenomenal success in his chosen vocation. But the “magic” that these “special” people shared include the following qualities: uncommon diligence, resolve, and determination. David Shenk, the author of the book,The Genius in All of Us elucidates the process that these super-achievers and others like them undergo. The good news is that genetics alone doesn’t determine achievement. Those who persist doggedly in an endeavor can actually accomplish a high standard of success.
This book provides extensive research on the effect of both genetics and epigenetics on achievement. Epigenetics is defined as the “study of heritable changes that occur without a change in the DNA sequence.” Most people are aware of the role of inherited traits. But the discussion in this book dismisses a simplistic interplay of “nature versus nurture.” The process is much more complicated. And while genes do play a part in performance, they are not the singular determinant of a person’s ability. People do have the opportunity to alter their aptitudes by practice. To illustrate the very complicated process, consider the following as put forth by Mr. Shenk:
Yo Yo Ma is THE cello virtuoso. And while both of his parents and his older sister were musicians, he didn’t simply begin playing the cello at an exceptional level when he was three. His father was a music instructor who was determined to produce an expert. Hence, he surrounded Yo Yo with music even before his birth. Yo Yo admired his parents and older sibling, and he chose the cello over the violin at age four. He had the distinct advantage of having his father as his instructor, and he practiced relentlessly, improving steadily at a very early age. In short, he provides an example of the 10,000 hour formula.
Michael Jordan was not the gifted athlete in his family. In fact, he didn’t even qualify for his high school varsity team when he was a sophomore. That experience incited his competitive spark and allowed him to become the prodigious famous athlete. Once again, “practice makes perfect.”
Excuses don’t work. They are self-defeating. To excel in anything, whether music, sports, academics, or business, apply diligence and practice, practice, practice to enhance the epigenetics. Above all, the message here is that genius is a process.