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 TheAtlantic.com, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.
What does it mean to be “talented” or “gifted” or a “genius”? David Shenk has an interesting take on the issue in his recent book The Genius in All of Us. Although it sounds like a self-help book, it’s actually an incredibly well-researched meditation on the nature of human talent.
According to Shenk, the traditional view of talent as a “gift” that is somehow given to us through our genes is both simplistic and outdated....
He also goes into great detail about the hard work and focus that some of the most talented people in history – including Mozart and Michael Jordan – put into developing their skills. His finding is that talent has less to do with the “gifts” that nature has endowed us with as it does with environmental and behavioral factors. That is, most of us aren’t destined to be talented or untalented. It’s something that happens over time, due to conscious effort and environmental stimuli.
The inspirational upshot of Shenk’s research is that “few of us know our true limits, that the vast majority of us have not even come close to tapping what scientists call our ‘unactualized potential.’"
This is exciting news, and hopefully it will inspire many of us to work harder at developing our skills. Too often I hear people label themselves as “not gifted at math” or “not artistic” or “not creative.” According to the research cited in Shenk’s book, we can’t let ourselves off that easy.