The Genius Of Discipline. When we fail, we all too often give up. The outcome, it seems, is not important enough to us for us to stop, reflect, learn and try again. So, we move on to the next thing, sighing that we’re just not that kind of person.
Anything that has impact, or is worth doing and is impressive requires skill. And skills are not acquired overnight. Whatever its other shortcomings, the thing that Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ makes crystal clear is that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Anyone who we admire and regard as a genius has put significantly more time into that activity than we have, than their competition has and that they generally admit to.
This is a principle we accept in sports stars, but gladly ignore when talking about other aspects of our lives like ideation, problem solving and creativity.
Despite what the myths of rock ‘n’ roll and high art will tell you about the importance of exceptionalism and genius, the same rule holds fast there. Simply put, anyone at the top of their discipline has routinely invested a fantastic amount of effort into the skills set required to deliver that work.
It is so un-maverick, but if you want to astound people with your capacity to think outside the box, improvise and invent, you have to have a creative routine and you have to incorporate that activity into your daily life … in short, you’ve got to put in the hours.
As Stephen King said, ‘The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.’
The genius myth of creativity is a convenient piece of marketing smoke and mirrors design to keep potential competition at bay and to hype the prices of the few who cracked the code so far.
Routines create spaces where magic can happen. Habits automate unnecessary rational behaviour that sets your superior (if somewhat slower) processing ability of your unconscious free. And yes, just like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you get.
Habits and dull routines can kill creative thinking for sure. It’s not all about just doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It’s about honing skills through repetition and taking on increasingly more challenging goals as they come into your arc. It’s slaving Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow to Dwek’s Growth Mindset, learning from your mistakes and coming back again tomorrow to try and do it better.
Bad habits will limit you; good routines will set you free. Learn to understand the difference and stop arguing for your limitations. It’s not that you should chase down every opportunity, it’s that you CAN chase down what you really, really want … if you want it enough to keep on showing up, day in and day out and focussing on getting better.
One day someone will interview you and call you a genius. When they do, I hope you deny it and share what you really did instead of perpetuating the damaging, disempowering lie of the lone genius, magic and natural talent.