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25th Reading: Being a Genius is hard work

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Genius: The Modern View is an Op-Ed piece by David Brooks. One reason I am counting it as one of my readings and writing a little blurb about it is that I want to share it with my students in the fall and writing helps cement something in my memory. Another reason is that relates to one of my art projects, An Exercise.

Brooks gives a quick gloss of what the latest research is finding out about this thing we call genius.

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours rigorously practicing their craft.

Brooks points to two points that summarize the latest research, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

The most interesting nugget/pearl of wisdom is that practice, practice, practice “delays the automatizing process.”

The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.

What seems to be key (I say seems because I haven’t seen the research and take any science findings reported in newspapers with a salt shaker worth of salt) is “the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.” I have to quibble with Brooks characterization of it as boring.

Having had long spells where I have worked in a similar way on my writing (I am in one of the spells right now, in fact) and performance skills, I seldom am bored by the hours and hours I spend paying close attention. Exhausted and depleted, sometimes, yes. But I rarely am bored. I find it satisfying to pay close attention trying to catch mistakes (though some always get past me), arranging and re-arrange the words, reading a section over and over and over again to find the small things that need fixing.

I am trying to balance the hours and hours I spend on pieces with some short writing assignments. Bishop Bishop’s Off the Cuff Daily Doses are an attempt to conceive, write and edit something in under an hour. It also is a type of practice, an attempt to hone my ability to community by focusing on time.

Last quote from Brooks piece, “the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior . . . it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.”

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On May 6th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
I am reading The Talent Code and cannot put it down. What Coyle explains about "deep practice", about the right way to practice to see results is very useful. I have heard that being tired after writing or after practicing violin, for example, is a sign that you have been practicing these skills well, practicing deeply.
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On May 6th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC), scarletazalea replied:
Re: Genius
Good to know that book is riveting. I think I have The Talent Code on hold at the library, it may be the other book, the library only had one of the books listed in the Op-Ed piece. I often am tired after a good long writing session, maybe that mean's I'm practicing enough. Though when I read over my work later, I think perhaps I need more practice.
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