Right around the time our first child was born, The Mozart-for-babies craze was at its peak.
The idea was that listening to Mozart’s music – even in utero – would make babies smarter. It was a gimmick by marketers that – brilliantly, of course – played into the belief of many parents that their children were “very bright” or “brilliant.”
As someone who fits nicely into the cultural zeitgeist (more of a follower than an innovator), I was delighted whenever our kids did really well at something, and attributed much of this to their natural intelligence. I thought we lived in a town like Lake Wobegon, where, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average”.
But as time goes on, I’ve gradually realized that our society’s fascination with genius – and good looks for that matter – is way overdone.
Sure, intelligence helps. But the vast majority of really accomplished people I’ve met owe their success to “practice, practice, practice” far more than anything else.
“There is no doubt in my mind that intelligence is only a fraction of the ingredients needed to be successful,” said Jim Cantrell of the SpaceX founding team, when asked about the widely admired innovator and entrepreneur, Elon Musk.
SpaceX only became successful after many years of years of struggle, and even failure. “Elon did succeed in the end because he never counted himself out. He never gave up. He kept going,” said Cantrell. Musk’s most important element of success was “dogged determination.”
There are countless stories like this. I’m reading about one of them right now.
“The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis (the guy who wrote “Moneyball”) is a delightful account of the collaboration and friendship of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their insights about judgement and decision making laid much of the groundwork for behavioral economics. (Richard Thaler, who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics, says both men “changed how we think about how we think.”).
Were both men geniuses? Probably. But on almost every page, the reader is struck by Kahneman and Tversky’s determination and dedication. They stuck at it.
The spark for all those years of hard work was passion. If you’re really fired-up by something, the chances are you will do it everyday. And get really good at it.
I used to wish that our kids would ace the test. But I should have prayed for work ethic instead.
(Years later, I’m enormously thankful that both of our adult children have indeed found what they love to do and spend most of their waking hours doing it. As the years unfold, their odds doing something special are in their favor.)
Richard Davies makes podcasts at DaviesContent.com. He’s the co-host of the weekly news and current affairs solutions podcast, “How Do We Fix It?”