Advertising
Advertising

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…

Advertising

“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…

Advertising

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.

Advertising

threshold-theory

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    More by this author

    7 Reasons You Haven’t Found Your Passion Yet 7 Ways To Get Over Fear and Make Big Life Changes Fast Growth Is Overrated — Here’s Why Famous Biologist Louis Agassiz On The Usefulness Of Learning Through Observation How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness

    Trending in Communication

    1 5 Life Lessons I Learned From Dean Winchester 2 How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up 3 How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late 4 50+ Best Motivational Quotes To Prepare You For Any Challenges In Life 5 A List of 100 Questions to Ask Your Partner on Date Nights

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on October 22, 2018

    5 Life Lessons I Learned From Dean Winchester

    5 Life Lessons I Learned From Dean Winchester

    Is it possible to say anything bad about Supernatural’s co-protagonist, Dean Winchester? I mean, from the very beginning of the show he’s done nothing but save people, hunt things, and look out for his oft-misguided brother Sam, all while putting everyone else’s needs before his own.

    Despite a few mishaps and stumbles here and there, Dean really is a great role model (well, excluding his tendency to consume copious amounts of alcohol and spend a bit too much time with a certain adult magazine).

    Below, you’ll find a list of just a few of the things that Dean Winchester has taught me about life (beware, spoilers abound)…

    1. Always Look Out For Your Family.

    DWLL#1-reupbugged

      At the end of the day, all you really have is your family, and thus it’s important not to cut your ties with them unless absolutely necessary. As much as you’d like to think you could do without them sometimes, especially when they’re acting up, it’s a fact that most of us need some sort of support system to keep persevering in our daily lives. That motivation, that drive to succeed, that helping hand when you need it most; it often comes from family. It’s incredibly hard to go it alone in this world, and we should all be thankful for those in our family who make our journeys just a bit easier.

      Dean grew up on the road, and often found himself in difficult circumstances. Without his dad and brother, he’d have been killed, or worse, long ago. Thus, Dean goes to extreme lengths to maintain his relations with what little family he has left.

      His brother therefore is everything to him, so much so that it becomes overbearing to Sam at times (which says more about Sam’s flaws than Dean’s, in my opinion).

      Dean looked out for Sam even when most sane people would turn the other cheek. Heck, he even gave up his soul to resurrect Sam, and later dealt with his brother’s addiction with demon blood in such an understanding manner (given the circumstances) that he probably deserves some kind of award. Later, when Castiel became a permanent fixture on the show, he too became a part of Dean’s family, and as such Dean has looked out for the prodigal angel ever since. Dean is just a supremely loyal guy, who’s insanely protective of the people he loves.

      While you shouldn’t let family members take advantage of you (more on this below), keeping close ties with them and looking out for their best interests is noble indeed.

      Advertising

      2. Take Care Of Your Car.

      Is there anyone better at maintaining a car than Dean Winchester? It seems that all he needs is a few hours and some bicep flexing to get his 1967 Chevy Impala running as well as it did in…well…1967.

      I have absolutely zero sense when it comes to the mechanics of a car, so I admire Dean’s technical prowess. But this goes even deeper than the car. It’s about the symbolism of it all. We all have something we care about in this world more than most. Some may call it a hobby, some may call it an obsession, but you know it as the thing you love doing. For me it might be writing or video games. For Dean it’s his Impala. For my mom, it would be teaching. For you, it could be any number of things.

      As you see in the image above, Dean keeps his nearly fifty year old car looking brand spanking new, something of a miracle judging by how many times it has been wrecked in the show. If we all put that much elbow grease into the things we are obsessed with and care about the most, not only would we be happier, but the world would be a better place as well!

      To put it even more simply, if you love something as much as Dean loves his Impala, take the time to maintain it, to keep it in tip top shape. I know I’m getting abstract here, but if you like writing, that means keep writing!

      Or if you love cooking, keep coming up with new recipes!

      Dean is passionate about his car, and the time he puts into showing that passion is something we should all emulate when it comes to the things we love and are obsessed with.

      3. Being Brave Has Its Benefits.

      Who would have thought that Lucifer could be beaten by a mixture of bravery and brotherly love? Dean’s shown time and time again in Supernatural that he’s willing to risk his life and limb to take down the greatest of evils, whether it be Azazel, Lilith, Alastair, or the Devil himself. On that same note, were would any of us be if we didn’t have a bit of bravery? I know that I personally would be practically nowhere without the tiny amount of courage I’m able to conjure up now and then. Life is difficult, and it takes perseverance and a belief in oneself to make progress.

      For instance, I’m currently applying to a smattering of PhD programs. Frankly, it’s terrifying, putting myself out there to be judged by faceless entities in some of the world’s top universities. But I’m doing it because I know it’s the right thing for my future, no matter how much it hurts to expose myself to possible rejection.

      One thing I noticed while studying history is that great leaders usually aren’t the most intelligent, all-around awesome people in the room. Otherwise, Ben Franklin would have been our first President and Machiavelli’s republic would have worked out. No, the people who blaze a trail into the future are the ones willing to make tough, heat-of-the-moment decisions without knowing what the exact consequences might be.

      Advertising

      Often times, all it takes is a bit of moxy and belief in oneself to accomplish things you thought were impossible. For instance, I thought I could never lecture or teach a class, but when the day finally came I walked through the door, took a deep breath, and just went with it.

      Lo and behold it all went fine! Dean is the epitome of that dive in and ask questions later mentality. It may not always be the smartest move on the chess board, but it’s often the one that results in the swiftest victory.

      While there are certainly benefits to thinking everything through, sometimes the situation calls for an empty mind and bold action.

      4. You Will Lose, What Matters Is How You Deal With It.

      As a way to get my creative juices flowing for this article, I’m listening to Bob Seger’s “Beautiful Loser,” which is one of many songs that could be called Dean Winchester’s theme.

      Indeed, it played at the beginning of season 6 when Dean was still trying to cope with the fact that his brother was “dead” by trying to live a normal suburban life (which to Dean was probably worse than the forty years he spent in hell). Of course, we can all relate just a bit to Mr. Seger’s song, as we all find ourselves down in the dumps at one point or another. What matters it how we react to such adversity. Do we cower, and let our failures consume us, or keep fighting and hope to win in the future? Obviously, the latter choice is the better option.

      A good example I have relates to the basketball player Kobe Bryant, a polarizing figure to say the least. He recently attained the NBA record for most shots missed overall, which sounds bad on paper. But let’s look at the facts. Despite the fact that Kobe failed to make thousands of shots, he didn’t let it bring him down. If he let a bad shooting night or two keep him from being who he is, it’s doubtful he would have won five championships.

      We all lose, and are losers, at some points. Even the best of us. We just need to remember that there’s always a new day tomorrow, that there’s always a chance to make up for past deficiencies, always another opportunity to throw the ball into the basket. You aren’t defined by your failures, but by how you choose to react to them.

      Dean’s probably lost more than any character on Supernatural. He blamed himself for his dad’s death, was unable to keep Sam from going dark side, and unknowingly started the chain of events that led to Lucifer’s release.

      On top of all that, he seems to get his face smashed in by people who are supposed to love him pretty frequently, as you can see by the image used above. Fast forward to season 10, and we’ve seen Dean have to deal fairly consistently with people (read: Sam) who don’t appreciate anything he’s done for them.

      Advertising

      Dean epitomizes the fact that we humans lose, a lot. That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to sit on our laurels and let life beat us down.

      Despite dealing with the lowest of lows, Dean has always risen above in the end and done what’s right. It hasn’t always worked out, but I’d say he’s seen a net positive effect from his actions despite everything he’s been through.

      5. Sometimes You Have To Let It All Out.

      This season, Dean turned into a demon, which removed his humanity and allowed him to go crazy (it involved lots of bar fights and karaoke).

      This version of Dean was all-powerful and snarky to the max. He let everyone have it, especially Sam, who for the past several seasons has treated Dean like an annoyance. Obviously, there’s no way I know of to gain the powers of a demon, and so none of us can let it all out like Dean in the literal sense. But if you’re feeling wronged by somebody, something, or the world as a whole, it’s a great idea to let off some steam every so often.

      This can come in the form of an angry outburst, a lengthy crying session, a prolonged run, a few angry screams at the moon while on an empty beach. Whatever works for you to try and address the pain you’ve been feeling. This doesn’t have to occur very frequently, nor should it. It’s a way to address whatever problems you’ve been dealing with in life in a rapid manner, and come back with a renewed outlook on whatever you were dealing with.

      Sometimes everyone, even someone with as perfect of a personality as Dean Winchester, has to let out their demons, literally or figuratively.

      You can’t just bottle it up all of the time. Dean tried to do this, and it only sparked the series of events that led to him becoming a demon.

      In my opinion, Dean’s time on the dark side was good for him and his loved ones, as they got to hear just how much they’d been taking advantage of his loyalty and trust all these years.

      So there you have it. Dean isn’t just on Supernatural to be a pretty face. He’s there to represent the kind of flawed human with good intentions that we all aspire to be.

      Advertising

      Though his brother Sam has shown flashes of this as well, Dean really is the one who exudes the kind of loyalty, care, and resiliency that I and others envy.

      After 9 seasons of looking out for literally everyone, I think that Dean’s time as a demon was a breath of fresh air for the character.

      Will this form of his return?

      I hope so, because Dean deserves more than two episodes to rail against all of the people who stepped on him for years.

      Are you a Dean Winchester fan? Or just a fan of Supernatural?

      No matter which, or even none, you can benefit from the lessons the character teaches us!

      Featured photo credit: Dean Winchester/sandrieliribeiro via flickr.com

      Read Next