I’ve posted a lot about “deliberate practice” and the work habits of geniuses. They’re relentless.
Here’s the question:
Is that just something that obsessed, crazy people do? Does this prove the often-theorized connection between genius and insanity?
We assume 10,000 hours of practice means passion or dedication. How often does it just mean stone-cold obsessed?
Brilliant, Famous — And Utterly Obsessed
Steve Jobs? Brilliant and obsessed.
That was in Apple’s factory — not someplace consumers would ever see.
Dying of cancer didn’t make a difference. He demanded the oxygen mask the doctors put on him be redesigned.
But there was no doubt this obsessiveness made him great.
Thomas Jefferson read fifteen hours a day in order to complete college in 2 years. He kept track of every single cent he ever spent in his life.
Alfred Kinsey, groundbreaking sex researcher, recorded sex histories on almost 8000 people, put together the world’s largest collection of sex books and, deciding that the Dewey Decimal system was inadequate, created his own method of classification.
I’ve posted about Paul Erdos, the “all-roads-lead-to-Rome” of the mathematics world, being obsessive at the extreme, wandering the world in search of new challenges with numbers.
Genius and insanity? Yup.
Baseball legend Ted Williams didn’t just obsessively swing a bat, he also zealously amassed data to perfect his skills, long before “Moneyball.”
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Beyond “A Good Work Ethic”
Here’s where we stop saying “genius and insanity” loosely. There are connections between creativity and mental disorders.
More specifically, obsessively thinking about things is connected to depression — but it’s also correlated with creativity:
This rumination/perseverence connection can be a double edged sword for creative people:
Obsessive people can be hell to be around, genius or not. What did Ted Williams’ second wife, model Lee Howard, say at their divorce hearing?
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The Dark Side
Harvard’s Howard Gardner studied a number of creative geniuses and found that to reach those heights requires enormous sacrifice in other areas of life — what amounted to a Faustian bargain.
Einstein lived in self-imposed isolation, Freud had an ascetic existence and Picasso became a selfish monster.
And Gardner’s study reveals that without these personal sacrifices they would not have been capable of their great achievements.
If hours alone determine genius then it is inevitable that reaching the greatest heights will be indistinguishable from pathological obsession.
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Back To Reality
Personally, you probably don’t need to worry about the line between genius and insanity.
You’re not going to get tied up in a Faustian bargain with your work, and let everything fall by the wayside to perfect your art.
But you can still learn from the crazies.
They did what they loved. They spent the time, probably enjoying the process much more than yet another hour of Netflix, and they became great.
If you want a healthy amount of what they had, what should you do next?
Start educating yourself. Which of the below is your weak spot?
Click, read and improve:
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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.