The End of Giftedness

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Thanks to The Atlantic for including me in such a distinguished group. Here's what I'll be writing about in this blog:

  • Genes don't issue fixed instructions for development; rather, they interact with our  surroundings so that we can adapt to them. This sounds strange, but it's true.
  • Intelligence is not innate; it is a collection of skills that one acquires.
  • Talent is not a thing; it's a process.


Putting this all together, one ends up with a whole new view of talent. We are not a world cruelly divided between the innately-gifted and the destined-to-be-mediocre. Rather, every human being is a reservoir of talent waiting to be successfully tapped.

Talent and intelligence -- where do they come from? I've spent the last three years researching for a book on the subject. How come Jack is so lousy at vocabulary, but so great at baseball? Where did Jill get such a head for numbers? What makes my IQ tiny and yours super-sized?

The old answer is that these things are a combination of nature and nurture. Good genes, decent parenting, and a lot of luck.

The truth turns out to be a lot more interesting, and has radical implications for world development.

In recent years a truckload of science has emerged with some surprising insights which, taken together, completely overturn our longstanding view of "giftedness"and"innate" talent. The findings, in a nutshell:

"Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake," declared the 19th century American philosopher William James. "...We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources."

James was right, and now we have the science to prove it. We also have a moral obligation to understand the ramifications of this new talent paradigm as parents, educators, policy-makers, and content-creators.

This is what I'll be exploring in the coming months. I will share the science behind the new talent paradigm, and try to convey how talent-as-process can change the way we see nearly everything.

Some of the broad areas we'll cover:

    * how genes work
    * how brains work
    * where child prodigies come from
    * what intelligence is
    * what nature/nurture really means
    * the creative process and work habits of high achievers
    * the roles of parents, schools, culture, and technology

We'll also look closely at a lot of real people. How did Barry become Barack? Wolfie become Herr Mozart? Young Jane Austen become an immortal storyteller?

A blog allows for many creative approaches, and my hope is to try a whole bunch. I'll start with a series of columns introducing different components of this idea. Then, having established a solid foundation, I'll trend towards shorter, more news-oriented posts, interspersed with the occasional short essay. Over time, we'll also experiment with GeniusBlog interviews, surveys,contests, puzzles, historical tidbits, and reader participation.

Looking forward to exploring this with you. Feedback is welcome.

- David Shenk

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David Shenk is a writer on genetics, talent and intelligence. He is the author of Data Smog, The Forgetting, and most recently, The Genius In All of Us. More

David Shenk is the author of six books, including Data Smog ("indispensable"—The New York Times), The Immortal Game ("superb"—The Wall Street Journal), and the bestselling The Forgetting ("a remarkable addition to the literature of the science of the mind."—The Los Angeles Times ). He has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, The American Scholar, and National Public Radio. Shenk's work inspired the Emmy-award winning PBS documentary The Forgetting and was featured in the Oscar-nominated feature Away From Her. His latest book, The Genius In All Of Us, was published in March 2010. Shenk has advised the President's Council on Bioethics and is a popular speaker. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

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