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Threshold Theory: How Smart Do You Have to Be to Succeed?

Threshold Theory: How Smart Do You Have to Be to Succeed?

How smart do you have to be to succeed?

What about to become a creative genius? Did Picasso and Mozart use superhuman intelligence to create their masterpieces?

And similarly…

  • How intelligent do you need to be to become a successful entrepreneur?
  • How good does your training program need to be to become an elite athlete?
  • How perfect does your weight loss program need to be to burn fat?

These are questions that we don’t often ask ourselves, but they are built into our beliefs and actions about many phases of life. We often think that the reason we aren’t succeeding is because we haven’t found the right strategy or because we weren’t born with the right talents.

Perhaps that is true. Or, perhaps there is an untold side of the story…

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“The Termites”

In 1921, there was a psychologist at Stanford University named Lewis Terman who set out on a mission to conduct a research study unlike any before it.

Terman began by finding the 1,000 smartest students in California between the third grade and eighth grade as measured by IQ. [1] After much testing and searching, Terman gathered a final sample of 856 boys and 672 girls. The children became known as “The Termites.”

Terman and his team began testing the children in nearly every way you could image. They tracked their IQ, analyzed how many books each student had in their homes, took their medical histories, and on and on. But that was just the beginning.

What made Terman’s study unique is that it was the first longitudinal research study, which meant that Terman continued to track and test his subjects for years afterward. The study, which is now famously known as Genetic Studies of Genius, collected data from the students throughout their entire lives. Terman collected additional data in 1928, 1936, 1940, 1945, 1950, and 1955. After Terman died in 1956, his colleagues continued tracking The Termites in 1960, 1972, 1977, 1982, and 1986.

To summarize, the study started with the smartest group of children in the entire state of California and then tracked their success throughout their entire lives. Decades later, the researchers had discovered something very interesting…

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Threshold Theory

The surprising discovery that came out of Terman’s study is best described by creativity researcher and physician, Nancy Andreasen…

“Although many people continue to equate intelligence with genius, a crucial conclusion from Terman’s study is that having a high IQ is not equivalent to being highly creative. Subsequent studies by other researchers have reinforced Terman’s conclusions, leading to what’s known as the threshold theory, which holds that above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t have much effect on creativity: most creative people are pretty smart, but they don’t have to be that smart, at least as measured by conventional intelligence tests. An IQ of 120, indicating that someone is very smart but not exceptionally so, is generally considered sufficient for creative genius.” [2]

Remember our question from the beginning: “Did Picasso and Mozart use superhuman intelligence to create their masterpieces?”

According to Threshold Theory, not necessarily. Being in the top 1 percent of intelligence has no correlation with being fantastically creative. Rather, there is a minimum threshold of intelligence that you need to have, and after that it comes down to a lot of deliberate practiceputting in your reps, and developing your skill set.

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    Threshold Theory in Everyday Life

    If you look around, you’ll see that Threshold Theory applies to many things in life. Success is rarely as simple as “just work harder.” The fundamentals matter. There is a minimum threshold of competence that you need to develop in nearly any endeavor.

    After that, however, the difference is between those who put in the work and those who get distracted. Once you have a basic grasp of the right things to do, it becomes about the consistency of doing the right things more often. Once you understand the fundamentals, it comes down to your habits.

    Some examples…

    Weightlifting: Assuming you’ve met some minimum threshold and are doing reasonably effective exercises (like these) with reasonably effective form, the details don’t really matter that much. Once you’ve passed this basic threshold, what makes 95% of the difference is this: Are you showing up to the gym and putting in your reps?

    Writing: Assuming you understand the core principles of writing and the basics of grammar, what determines your ability to write well more than anything else is writing a lot. Once you reach the threshold of writing a decent sentence, the thing that leads to success is writing more.

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    Entrepreneurship: Assuming you know what the most important metric is for your business, what makes the biggest difference is focusing on that metric every day. Once you cross the basic threshold of knowing what to work on, the most important thing is continuing to work on that one thing and not something else.

    If you’re brand new to an area, then it’s possible you haven’t learned enough to cross the threshold yet. But for most of us, we know what works and we have enough knowledge to make progress. It’s not about being more intelligent or more skilled, it’s about overcoming distraction and doing the work that already works.

    James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

    Sources
    1. Interestingly, Termin actually created the IQ test that he used to determine the intelligence of his original group. The IQ test was originally created by French psychologist Alfred Binet and Termin adjusted the test to create the “Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales”, which is now in it’s fifth edition and is probably the most well-known IQ test.
    2. Secrets of the Creative Brain” by Nancy C. Andreasen. June 25, 2014.

    Thanks to reader Dean Dwyer for sending me the creativity article by Dr. Andreasen, which led me down the long, twisted path to this article. As usual, you all are keeping me on the right track.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

    10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

    The ability to take risks by stepping outside your comfort zone is the primary way by which we grow. But we are often afraid to take that first step.

    In truth, comfort zones are not really about comfort, they are about fear. Break the chains of fear to get outside. Once you do, you will learn to enjoy the process of taking risks and growing in the process.

    Here are 10 ways to help you step out of your comfort zone and get closer to success:

    1. Become aware of what’s outside of your comfort zone

    What are the things that you believe are worth doing but are afraid of doing yourself because of the potential for disappointment or failure?

    Draw a circle and write those things down outside the circle. This process will not only allow you to clearly identify your discomforts, but your comforts. Write identified comforts inside the circle.

    2. Become clear about what you are aiming to overcome

    Take the list of discomforts and go deeper. Remember, the primary emotion you are trying to overcome is fear.

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    How does this fear apply uniquely to each situation? Be very specific.

    Are you afraid of walking up to people and introducing yourself in social situations? Why? Is it because you are insecure about the sound of your voice? Are you insecure about your looks?

    Or, are you afraid of being ignored?

    3. Get comfortable with discomfort

    One way to get outside of your comfort zone is to literally expand it. Make it a goal to avoid running away from discomfort.

    Let’s stay with the theme of meeting people in social settings. If you start feeling a little panicked when talking to someone you’ve just met, try to stay with it a little longer than you normally would before retreating to comfort. If you stay long enough and practice often enough, it will start to become less uncomfortable.

    4. See failure as a teacher

    Many of us are so afraid of failure that we would rather do nothing than take a shot at our dreams.

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    Begin to treat failure as a teacher. What did you learn from the experience? How can you take that lesson to your next adventure to increase your chance of success?

    Many highly successful people failed plenty of times before they succeeded. Here’re some examples:

    10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

    5. Take baby steps

    Don’t try to jump outside your comfort zone, you will likely become overwhelmed and jump right back in.

    Take small steps toward the fear you are trying to overcome. If you want to do public speaking, start by taking every opportunity to speak to small groups of people. You can even practice with family and friends.

    Take a look at this article on how you can start taking baby steps:

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    The Number One Secret to Life Success: Baby Steps

    6. Hang out with risk takers

    There is no substitute for this step. If you want to become better at something, you must start hanging out with the people who are doing what you want to do and start emulating them. (Here’re 8 Reasons Why Risk Takers Are More Likely To Be Successful).

    Almost inevitably, their influence will start have an effect on your behavior.

    7. Be honest with yourself when you are trying to make excuses

    Don’t say “Oh, I just don’t have the time for this right now.” Instead, be honest and say “I am afraid to do this.”

    Don’t make excuses, just be honest. You will be in a better place to confront what is truly bothering you and increase your chance of moving forward.

    8. Identify how stepping out will benefit you

    What will the ability to engage in public speaking do for your personal and professional growth? Keep these potential benefits in mind as motivations to push through fear.

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    9. Don’t take yourself too seriously

    Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Risk taking will inevitably involve failure and setbacks that will sometimes make you look foolish to others. Be happy to roll with the punches when others poke fun.

    If you aren’t convinced yet, check out these 6 Reasons Not to Take Life So Seriously.

    10. Focus on the fun

    Enjoy the process of stepping outside your safe boundaries. Enjoy the fun of discovering things about yourself that you may not have been aware of previously.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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