How Far Can Genius Take You?


I once had a family friend named Andrew. He introduced me to Puff Daddy, Usher, and Triple Five Soul apparel. He also had a brilliant mind for medicine. Rutgers University literally created an award in chemistry, so they could give it to him.

While he was in medical school, I asked him how he did so well in his studies. His answer was simple:

“I learn things faster than other people.”

He went on:

“I see these other people in medical school, they’re studying as much as they can, as fast as they can. But in the beginning, it’s just a volume game. You can’t get through everything.”

“He could study 24-7, everyday, and he couldn’t keep up with me. It’s not fair, but it’s just what it is.”

I haven’t talked to Andrew in years, but naturally, I remembered this conversation while I was looking into buying an Instant Pot.

If the Instant Pot isn’t blowing up your Facebook feed and you don’t know what it is, it’s a pressurized cooker that can cook a 7-hour roast in an hour. Or minute rice in 15 seconds — which doesn’t quite have the same ring, but I digress.

“But how does it work?!?”

In a word: pressure.

An Instant Pot uses heat and time AND pressure. By increasing the third variable, it can decrease one of the others, such as time. And as many 28-45 year old women on Facebook can attest, this is a game changer.

It’s also what Andrew was referring to.

He assessed it didn’t matter how long someone studied (time) or how hard they worked (temperature). Andrew knew there was a third variable that gave him an edge. You can call this third variable natural ability or “genius.”

Anecdotally, I only need to look as far as my family to find other examples. I have two brothers who grasp a vast array of topics much faster than my sister and me. Things just make sense to them, while for me and my sister, we have to work (sometimes a lot) harder to reach the same level of comprehension.

So what’s the takeaway? That if you don’t possess that natural ability you’ll always lag behind? I don’t think so. For example, take Andrew’s story. Eventually medical school ends. No one wants the best medical student, we want the best doctor. And there’s more to a great doctor than the ability to absorb and regurgitate information.

Two more stories come to mind.

First, Gary Vaynerchuk’s take on “working smart and working hard.” He says,

“The biggest advantage you have is your work ethic. If you’re not applying that, and putting those hours into your business, you’re going to come up short. And you may come to me with a different point of view. You may say “Gary, that’s cool, but I don’t have to work that hard, because I work smart.”

Yeah? Well I work hard and smart so what now?”

In other words, yes, genius matters. All else being equal, it’s a huge advantage.

But rarely are all things equal.

Don’t underestimate the power of the other variables, time and hard work — even if you have to do them for free.

The second story is about Kanye West, as told by Cole Cuchna in his podcast Dissect:

After interrupting Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMA’s, he was America’s villain, a cautionary tale for musicians everywhere. In response to the vitriol, Kanye sent himself on a self-imposed exile. He started in Japan, went to Rome, then Hawaii.

In Hawaii, Kanye booked all the session rooms of the Avex recording studio. He imported some of the world’s best producers, emcees, and artists to form what they called “rap camp.” His motivation? He wanted to prove that:

“No matter how much they hate me, even if they hate me the most, I can write something that they have to respect.”

For example, it was during one of those sessions he heard beats from the Dallas based underground producer Symbolic One AKA S1. Days later, S1 got an email saying that his flight to Hawaii leaves in one hour. When he had arrived, Kanye had already recorded some vocals over his beats, on what would become the third track on the album, Power.

Kanye rarely slept. Instead, like a panther he stalked back and forth from room to room, directing what would become arguably one of the greatest albums ever created, My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy.

Kanye’s story shows us that it’s your responsibility to create the conditions for success, no matter what your level.

What do we do with that information? Until we can download skills and abilities, Matrix-style, here’s what I takeaway:

1. Natural talent is real. Fact: Some people are born smarter, faster, better-looking. Also fact: Spending any iota of time wallowing or complaining about it is a waste of time.

2. Know yourself. You have to accurately and honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses. This means being able to ignore both the sycophants and the haters.

3. Create the environment to succeed. Whatever your goals, it’s your responsibility to level the playing field to reach them. For some, it means you don’t have to change a damn thing. For others, it means surrounding yourself with the very best, or working 12 hours a day for years. Whichever you decide, it’s on you.

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