We’ve heard this story. Young kid, really smart. Unbelievably smart for everyone around him. The genius ! Sadly, something changes. There’s always a point when you step out of a tiny little place and realise that in the bigger world out there, there are a large number of identically smart people. You suddenly aren’t the smart kid anymore. You’re just a normal kid. Normal. “I’m so much smarter than X, but he works hard so he’s marginally ahead of me” I have heard variations of this phrase countless times throughout college. In fact, these were my thoughts too, while starting out.This thought process offers two-pronged benefits: the ability to uplift oneself by self-reinforcing the strength of one’s innate ability while simultaneously debasing that of others.Thus begins the reverse fallacy of the genius. Before examining the detriment of this fallacy, let’s spend some time on the roots of this thought process. I believe that the roots of this lie in the formative years. Appreciation is a key mechanism used by society to promote desirable behaviour. Hence, it is only natural to appreciate a child for say, getting good grades
Achievement/Output = f(Effort, Innate Ability)This leaves us with three choices, to appreciate the effort put in, the innate ability or a combination of both. Generally however, most of the achievements during childhood do not include significant effort. Hence, the natural choice of praise boils down to innate ability. As the years pass by, the effort involved changes significantly, but the appreciation mechanism sticks to praising innate ability, out of habit. This creates a tricky scenario, where, more than the direct achievement, we associate our value with innate ability. Feeling good about innate ability becomes the reward mechanism of choice, achieving something becomes just a medium to gain validation about innate ability. The problem begins when the supposed intellectual outliers in every school, come together in college. Suddenly, the competition shoots up, the effortlessness associated with achievements disappears. At this point, there’s two choices: to actually put in the effort or to self-satisfy the need to validate innate ability. Inertia pushes most towards the easier option.
Now that we have established the roots of this thought process, let’s try to understand the detrimental effects of it.
The inability to think beyond your talent stagnates you. Not only are does this lead to subconsciously looking down on anyone who’s achieving, but it also means that the person is associating effort to a negative image. There is a tendency to avoid effort because it’s not what “smart” people do and there isn’t enough “smartness” to overcome real problems that arise. This also might lead to isolation, because the “lone genius” works alone.
Does that work for anyone? Not really.
So next time when you’re thinking that you could have easily achieved something that someone else did because you’re smart. Think about why you’re so bitter? Is this an insecurity? This post ends without offering any advice but to be true to yourself