The book

The author

  • David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), Data Smog ("indispensable" - New York Times), and The Immortal Game ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.

    More info here.

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March 13, 2007




You raise a good point about structure vs. creativity. To my understanding, it is true that discipline and sustained effort are important to developing a skill, but the way high performers do this has very little in common with the way its practiced in many schools. The popular understanding of learning is that its about mindless repetition until it sinks in, wearing grooves into your brain, etc. In this model, the learner's mind is passive while he or she acts out the required behavior. High performers are much more active -- the most important thing is not necessarily repetition, but getting feedback by paying very close and sustained attention to how they are performing the actions.

Nadav Manham

Thank you for the post on Ted Williams, one of my heroes growing up. I started learning about him when I was playing Little League baseball myself, and was always struck by how different his preteenage baseball experience was from mine:

My suburban team practiced about three times a week for maybe two hours at a time. I probably had about 15 minutes of batting practice thrown by a coach before it was the next kid's turn. After practice, back home for homework, guitar lessons, etc.

For Williams, on the other hand, life was all about baseball, and all about hitting in particular. His home life was troubled so he was always at the ballfield. No coaches, he just rounded up other kids to pitch to him. Hours and hours a day. He probably took tens of thousands of swings for every one I took.

Ray Cheng


This is not quite what you asked for in the initial post, but I want to call your attention to a new book by Josh Waitzkin (the subject of the hit movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer," now a grown man) titled "The Art of Learning." It is a personal account of his recipe to success, first in chess, then martial arts. I have not read the book, but the editorial reviews suggest that it may resonate with your message. I wonder if Waitzkin would qualify for an entry in your book.

I'v thought about possible names to add to your list of genius legends, but keep coming back to the obvious - Mozart, Gauss, Einstein, Shakespeare, Edison, Woods, etc. But perhaps you haven't heard of Srinivasan Ramanujan, an Indian mathematician who lived in the early 1900s. He was entirely self-taught. He was "discovered" in the West by G.H. Hardy and Paul Littlewood of England, who recognized genius in the untidy bundle of papers he had sent for their consideration. They contained fantastic theorems of the most profound and original nature. He was brought to Cambridge (or was it Oxford?), where he produced papers of the highest quality, before tragically succumbing to tuberculosis (or was it polio? - sorry). Let me refer you to "The Man Who Knew Infinity" by Kanigel.

Austin Cartwright

I have two questions related to some of the information on your blog. You have one post on education that says that the current education system stifles creativity because (in my own words) it is too structured, forcing everyone to learn the same, and relies on rote learning. But on the other hand some of your posts say that Genus seems to stems from disciplined and intense practicing of technique. Which is kinda of rote..ish, structured, and focuses on teaching a set technique that is non-individualized. Which is it or am I misunderstanding something?

Also I have read that there are two types of genius....those that take the whole life span and focuses on technique and other which works by a ground breaking insight, in the early career, that changes the paradigm of a field, but then they do not add much after that. How does this fit it your concept of Genius?

You don’t have to respond, just throwing questions out there.

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