Going from Flawed Genius to Creative Genius

Let’s look at another side of success – choosing the right path to the top.

Thirty years or more ago, I read a little book called “A Programmed Guide to Office Warfare.” On going through the book, the reader was presented with a number of possible scenarios, and a decision point. The decision you made limited your future decisions.

Just like that book, our lives can be largely limited by the decisions we make. For example, if we choose to follow a particular course of study, breaking away to do something totally different further down the line becomes more difficult. Once you’ve got a degree in English Literature, you’re going to find it exceedingly difficult to break into Dentistry, at least not without a lot more schooling.

Sometimes, we choose paths that aren’t right for us, at all. A person with poor math skills may choose a job that requires statistical analysis abilities. A person who stands only five feet, six inches tall (that’s 167 cm for people who don’t live in the United States) is going to find it difficult to break into professional basketball. He may love the sport, but professionally, he’s going to have a difficult time making any money playing it, when his competition stands quite a bit above his head.

We all are limited, therefore, as to the types of jobs we can do. Our basketball fan could make a living managing a basketball team, or marketing a basketball team, but he’s not going to make many slam-dunks on the court.

Earl Nightingale, known as the “dean of personal achievement,” spoke about how we can best find positions well suited for our abilities.

Earl said people basically separate into two kinds of achievers: those who have a natural ability in an area, and those who have to develop ability. He used Mozart as an example. Mozart was a child prodigy, composing and performing early in his youth, at a high rate of excellence. He was, Earl said, in his “river of interest.”

Earl went on to explain that many people have a “river of interest” where their talents are superb, their abilities “natural.” While in that river, they find everything easy to do; they excel naturally and effortlessly. They have, whether the result of past experience or genetics, a predisposition to excel in a particular discipline.

When people in that river of interest get outside of their area of specialty, however, they don’t do as well. Mozart was a marvelous composer, but I bet he’d have been a pretty poor plumber.

Sometimes, in life, you’ll run across people like this – perhaps you are one of them – who manage to make everything they do look easy. They have found their river – or rivers – of interest, and they excel marvelously.

Other times – perhaps more often – you’ll find people who may be “naturals” in every sense of the word, but because it has come to them easily, never put the effort into learning how to become excellent at their craft. They are the “natural” writer, who never learns how to properly spell, but who can create a marvelous story; the “natural” programmer, who can create code that makes other programmers jealous, but who never can deliver a project on time and on budget; or the salesperson who has a natural ability to deal with people, and yet who never learns the simple techniques that can help make him or her great.

We usually refer to this as “flawed genius” – someone who could be great, but probably never will be.

Secondly, we can see people who have never found their “river of interest,” but who steadfastly work at learning a subject, until they become excellent at it. Earl referred to these people as “goal-driven,” meaning that unless they set a goal to achieve something, they likely were never going to get it.

Goal-driven people are usually the majority of us – people who choose a profession because they want the rewards the profession can deliver.

My previous dentist was one such person. When I first got to know him, I asked him why he became a dentist. “Simple,” he said. “I wanted to make money, and I heard it was a good way to make some.”

Well, he made quite a bit of money from me over the years. He was goal-driven, and he persisted until he achieved his goal. I came to regret his decision at times, but I stuck with him until he retired. I learned how goal-driven he was, when he charged me $20 for a 2-minute lecture on proper flossing techniques.

Obviously, since we don’t all have the same abilities, we’ve got more chance of success when we decide where we want to go, and choose a path that maximizes whatever we have to offer.

Let’s take salespeople as an example. Some salespeople, for example, never learn how to close a sale. They are willing to deal with the customer, happy to golf with their boss, and interested in learning more about sales, but they just don’t have the ability to ask someone to buy their product.

They usually don’t succeed in sales, until they learn how to add that missing component – and some of them never learn.

On the flip side, there is the salesperson that has a lot of natural ability, and yet never bothers to learn the techniques to maximize his/her worth. They are like the basketball player who, blessed with large size and physical ability, never bothers to learn how to become the next Michael Jordan –  simply because it’s easier to just slide along.

Then, there’s the salesperson who has no ability at all. His/her father was an insurance salesman, so he became one as well; he was laid off from his job, and took up sales until something better came along; or he just went after it, because, like my dentist, he heard it paid pretty well.

Like my book on office warfare, life is a series of decisions. We can make good decisions, bad decisions, and mediocre decisions. We can choose to be swept along by whatever breeze is blowing at the time, or we can decide to set our rudder, lift the sails, and determine our own port of call.

It’s rarely too late to make a change in our lives –  if we’re on a dead-end path, now is the time to turn around, and choose a different road. If we’re swimming in our “river of interest,” but not excelling, we can choose to learn techniques that help us deliver the quality we’re capable of. If we are goal-driven, and after an area where we can just fit in, we may have to learn a few things to become excellent – including modeling ourselves after people who are the “naturals” in our area of interest.

If, however, we’re working in an area where we have no potential –  if we’re the five-foot-six basketball player looking for a professional career –  we’re likely wasting a life that could be better oriented toward an area where we could do some good. We’re well outside of our river of interest, and we’re drowning.

Some years ago, I spent a couple of years living in Japan. While I was there, I learned a Japanese “kotowaza,” or proverb, which states “Many paths lead to the top of Mt. Fuji.” While that’s true, (at least where Fuji is concerned) there is usually a path that is best for each of us to follow. One of the great adventures of our life is finding that path, and maximizing our contributions, so we can make a difference in our own lives, and the lives of others.

If you’re not on the right path, turn around. If you are, press ahead. If you don’t know if you’re on the right path, stop, evaluate your position, and get a map if needed. Maximize your investment in your life by choosing the right path to follow.

Adapted from an article originally written by Daryl Gibson for SalesStar.com

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