According to David Shenk, no one is born a genius. Nor are special talents the result of inspiration or to be attributed to "giftedness." His premise, backed by a plethora of impressive studies in disparate disciplines, is that outstanding performance in any field is mostly the result of practice. Think of the cute and amazing child violinists, graduates of the Suzuki Method.
Perhaps that is too simplified. Outstanding achievement, he explains, is the result of a process, the interactions of genes and their environments: G x E, with the emphasis on the interactions. He says most all of us can display genius, thus firing up the Human Potential Movement once more.
But first, a word about what contributes to the aura of authenticity surrounding Shenk's new work. The text covers less than 134 pages of the 302-page production by Doubleday Publishing. It may well win a prize for the highest back-matter-to-text ratio, as well as the longest subtitle of the year award. There's no denying the great effort that went into assembling and assimilating research studies from education, psychology, biology, and genetics reported in books, journals, and online. Even from television and conversations.
Shenk says it took him about three years to track down this material, develop his "new paradigm" of thinking and present it in book form. Three years is not a long time to research, review, and write a nonfiction book, especially one involving the leading edges of scientific topics. But one must wonder about the author's claim to "routinely write and rewrite a sentence, paragraph and/or chapter 20, 30, 40 times" seeking satisfaction. Or is it perfectionism?
I've never rewritten anything more than three times, but then I'm not great, only cursed with the label "gifted" and familiar with others who have high IQs. My first reaction to reading about Shenk's book was to wonder how fellow Mensans would react to the "new paradigm" — two words that he uses ad nauseum. Giving up the identity of being "gifted" might be difficult, especially for those who have nothing else going for them.