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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 January 21, 2020

    How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

    How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

    If I was a super hero I’d want my super power to be the ability to motivate everyone around me. Think of how many problems you could solve just by being able to motivate people towards their goals. You wouldn’t be frustrated by lazy co-workers. You wouldn’t be mad at your partner for wasting the weekend in front of the TV. Also, the more people around you are motivated toward their dreams, the more you can capitalize off their successes.

    Being able to motivate people is key to your success at work, at home, and in the future because no one can achieve anything alone. We all need the help of others.

    So, how to motivate people? Here are 7 ways to motivate others even you can do.

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    1. Listen

    Most people start out trying to motivate someone by giving them a lengthy speech, but this rarely works because motivation has to start inside others. The best way to motivate others is to start by listening to what they want to do. Find out what the person’s goals and dreams are. If it’s something you want to encourage, then continue through these steps.

    2. Ask Open-Ended Questions

    Open-ended questions are the best way to figure out what someone’s dreams are. If you can’t think of anything to ask, start with, “What have you always wanted to do?”

    “Why do you want to do that?”

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    “What makes you so excited about it?”

    “How long has that been your dream?”

    You need this information the help you with the following steps.

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    3. Encourage

    This is the most important step, because starting a dream is scary. People are so scared they will fail or look stupid, many never try to reach their goals, so this is where you come in. You must encourage them. Say things like, “I think you will be great at that.” Better yet, say, “I think your skills in X will help you succeed.” For example if you have a friend who wants to own a pet store, say, “You are so great with animals, I think you will be excellent at running a pet store.”

    4. Ask About What the First Step Will Be

    After you’ve encouraged them, find how they will start. If they don’t know, you can make suggestions, but it’s better to let the person figure out the first step themselves so they can be committed to the process.

    5. Dream

    This is the most fun step, because you can dream about success. Say things like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if your business took off, and you didn’t have to work at that job you hate?” By allowing others to dream, you solidify the motivation in place and connect their dreams to a future reality.

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    6. Ask How You Can Help

    Most of the time, others won’t need anything from you, but it’s always good to offer. Just letting the person know you’re there will help motivate them to start. And, who knows, maybe your skills can help.

    7. Follow Up

    Periodically, over the course of the next year, ask them how their goal is going. This way you can find out what progress has been made. You may need to do the seven steps again, or they may need motivation in another area of their life.

    Final Thoughts

    By following these seven steps, you’ll be able to encourage the people around you to achieve their dreams and goals. In return, you’ll be more passionate about getting to your goals, you’ll be surrounded by successful people, and others will want to help you reach your dreams …

    Oh, and you’ll become a motivational super hero. Time to get a cape!

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