So I’m reading a new book…I know, you’re shocked…called The Genius in All of Us by David Shenk. Amazing so far! In the first 30 pages it has made me reconsider my thinking on nature vs nurture and what makes us who we are. Shenk is challenging (using science) the historical notion that it is our genes that control our talent, not our environment. It’s traditionally believed that upon conception, our genes determine everything about us – from our hair color to our height to our skills and abilities. Seems pretty reasonable, right? Combination of DNA from our parents and voila…a pre-determined human with no control over talent. Shenk disputes that claim, saying that yes, genes are obviously important but that our environment is also to blame, or has influence over, the discovery of our talents and abilities.
Consider this (and Shenk uses this example) – baseball player called Ted Williams. Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time (he played from 1939-1960) Willaims is said to have laser-like eyesight, which let him read the curve and speed of pitches the second it left the pitchers fingers. This “natural” ability is cited as the reason Williams holds the record as the last player to bat over 0.400 in a season, has 521 career home runs and continues to hold the record for the highest career batting average for anyone with 500 or more home runs. Even if you don’t understand all these baseball stats and their significance, understand this…they’re impressive. What’s even more impressive is that eye sight tests reveal William’s vision to be, while exceptional, to be well within normal human limits.
So what does that all mean? It means that Williams success can’t be credited to just good genes. His eyesight was good but it wasn’t exceptional. So what made him so great at his sport? Practice. And more practice. And then a little more practice after that. For sure, having good eyesight helped, but without the hours and hours he spent hitting balls, the hours and hours he spent talking to pitchers and coaches and other players, Williams would be ordinary. A guy good at baseball but not necessarily exceptional.
Even just this one example asks us to pause and give consideration to attributing amazing ability based on nothing but good genes, to considering that Williams was passionate for the game and did whatever he could to make sure he excelled at it. He took his passion, decided that he wanted to be amazing at it and did whatever he needed to do to make it happen. So what excuse do we have when we say we can’t do something because we have no natural ability at it? Based on the research by Shenk in this book…we really don’t have any excuse at all.