Here is more advice to any students or learners. As Dr. Wills said one class, “There are very few geniuses, most people who come off as geniuses have simply worked hard.

In 1997 Gary McPherson studied 157 randomly selected children as they picked out and learned a musical instrument. Some went on to become fine musicians and some faltered. McPherson searched for the traits that separated those who progressed from those who did not. IQ was not a good predictor. Neither were aural sensitivity, math skills, income, or a sense of rhythm. The best single predictor was a question McPherson had asked the students before they had even selected their instruments: How long do you think you will play? The students who planned to play for a short time did not become very proficient. The children who planned to play for a few years had modest success. But there were some children who said, in effect: “I want to be a musician. I’m going to play my whole life.” Those children soared. The sense of identity that children brought to the first lesson was the spark that would set off all the improvement that would subsequently happen. It was a vision of their future self.

The prevailing view is that geniuses are largely built, not born.

What Mozart had, it’s maintained, was the same thing many extraordinarily precocious performers have—a lot of innate ability, the ability to focus for long periods of time, and an adult intent on improving one’s skills.

The latest research suggests a prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of how fantastic success is achieved. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. Instead, what really matters is the ability to get better and better gradually over time. As K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University has demonstrated, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously honing their craft. As Ericsson has noted, top performers devote five times more hours to become great than the average performers devote to become competent.

It’s not just the hours, it’s the kind of work done in those hours. Mediocre performers practice in the most pleasant way possible. Great achievers practice in the most deliberate and self-critical way. Often they break their craft down to its smallest constituent parts, and then they work on one tiny piece of the activity over and over again.

As Daniel Coyle notes in his book The Talent Code, “Every skill is a form of memory.” It takes hard work and struggle to lay down those internal structures. In this way, brain research reinforces the old-fashioned work ethic.

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (David Brooks)

Hard Work…Now That’s Genius

Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

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