Are geniuses made, not born? I just read a new book called Sudden Genius? in which the British biographer Andrew Robinson offers an admirably balanced take on this controversial topic–far more balanced than the one to be found in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which comes dangerously close to arguing that genius doen’t exist at all. In my “Sightings” column for today’s Wall Street Journal, I compare and contrast these two points of view:
Andrew Robinson examines key moments in the lives of such giants as Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci. The conclusion that he draws from their experience is that creative genius is “the work of human grit, not the product of superhuman grace.” Along the way, Mr. Robinson also takes time out to consider one of the most fashionable modern-day theories of genius–and finds it wanting.
The theory is known in England as “the 10-year rule” and in the U.S., where it has been popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, the author of “Outliers,” as “the 10,000-hour rule.” The premise is the same: To become successful at anything, you must spend 10 years working at it for 20 hours each week. Do so, however, and success is all but inevitable. You don’t have to be a genius–in fact, there’s no such thing.
K. Anders Ericsson, the psychologist who is widely credited with having formulated the 10,000-hour rule, says in “The Making of an Expert,” a 2007 article summarizing his research, that “experts are always made, not born.” He discounts the role played by innate talent, citing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as an example….
The problem with the 10,000-hour rule is that many of its most ardent proponents are political ideologues who see the existence of genius as an affront to their vision of human equality, and will do anything to explain it away. They have a lot of explaining to do…
Read the whole thing here.