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Genes mean very little, considering that, as Shenk points out, “genes are constantly activated and deactivated by environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses and other genes.” In other words, our genes don’t guarantee anything.
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 behavioural 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 and that the vast majority of us have not even come close to tapping what scientists call our ‘unactualised potential.’”
This is exciting news, and hopefully it will inspire many of us to work harder at developing our skills. Too often we 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.
If we broaden our understanding of talent, we’ll start seeing it in unexpected places. The truth is, we’ve all got unbelievable potential. it’s just up to us, our mentors and our leaders to tap into it and put it to good use. A tall order, to be sure, but one that’s definitely worth the work.