The saying goes, “Asking the right question is half the answer.”1
There’s a popular misconception of nature-vs-nurture. It’s built into the nomenclature for crying out loud. People bandy it about as if the two terms are constantly opposing forces, each trying to dominate the other.
A more accurate way to think about this concept, then, might be to rebrand it as “nature and nurture.”1
I recently read this National Geographic article on the subject of genius. It questions the traditional notion that intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, is what makes a genius a genius. But even if we generously assume that it’s only one element, is it even the most important one?
“…monumental intelligence on its own is no guarantee of monumental achievement…”2
People on the wrong side of the IQ tracks have won Nobel prizes. Charles Darwin thought of himself as being of average intelligence, but he was a man of unyielding curiosity.
According to current science, here are few other characteristics of genius:
Grit: Are you tenacious, focused, and disciplined enough to achieve your goals?
The ability to connect disparate concepts: As Dwight V. Swain, one of my most cherished writing instructors says, “Read widely. Socialize widely. Listen to a variety of music.”
Supportive environment: Who are you surrounding yourself with? People who support your passion or people who criticize you because they’re too scared to do anything themselves?
“The number one predictor of impact is productivity,” says Dean Keith Simonton, professor emeritus of psychology at UC Davis and a longtime scholar of genius. Big hits emerge after many attempts. “Most articles published in the sciences are never cited by anybody,” says Simonton. “Most compositions are not recorded. Most works of art aren’t displayed.” Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and the first commercially viable light bulb, but these were just two of the thousand-plus U.S. patents he was awarded.2
The simple fact is that these are all things we can develop.
But there’s usually one giant roadblock that keeps us from accomplishing these things and I’ll go ahead and apologize for being such a broken record lately:
Fear of failure. Of not getting it right on the first try.
Even fear of success. If we succeed, we will change. Change is uncomfortable.
Here’s a quote specific to the importance of ‘letting go’ when creating:
Jazz improvisation provides a compelling example of how neural networks interact during the creative process. Charles Limb, a hearing specialist and auditory surgeon at UC San Francisco, designed an iron-free keyboard small enough to be played inside the confines of an MRI scanner. Six jazz pianists were asked to play a scale and a piece of memorized music and then to improvise solos as they listened to the sounds of a jazz quartet. Their scans demonstrate that brain activity was “fundamentally different” while the musicians were improvising, says Limb. The internal network, associated with self-expression, showed increased activity, while the outer network, linked to focused attention and also self-censoring, quieted down. “It’s almost as if the brain turned off its own ability to criticize itself,” he says.2
The words on the page don’t care about a number spit out by a test. Don’t let anyone, not even yourself, convince you that you can’t create something wonderful to share with the rest of us. That you can’t be a better person than who you are today.