matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right
anterior insula…The thickness of two regions correlated with
meditation experience.” These data provide the first structural
evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated
with meditation practice.
P: What are some of the factors that contribute to greatness?
S: It starts and ends with perseverance, with the understanding
that you have to keep pushing yourself beyond your current
capability. In your practice and training, you work over and over
to get better at something you can’t quite do, and once you get
there, you extend your ambition further, working to get good and
something that’s even further out of your reach. You treat failure
as an opportunity to build skills you don’t have, as opposed to a
flashing message that says, “Sorry, you can’t ever do this.”
P: Can you identify factors that could prevent us from
reaching our true genetic potential?
S: Very few of us come close to our theoretical potential in any
domain, because doing so involves a lifetime of focus, sacrifice
and perseverance. And that’s fine. Living an extreme life dedicated
to being the very best is not necessarily a life that it is healthy for
most of us to lead. But it’s important to understand that a lot of
this has to do with personal choice, not genetic limitation. There
are genetic limitations, of course, but they are far fewer than we
P: For leaders who do not tolerate mediocrity, what can they
do to identify and tap someone else’s full potential?
S: You start with expecting excellence, setting the bar high. You
also encourage risk-taking, and make people comfortable with
failure as part of the process. If people are afraid to fail, they’ll
never take the necessary risks. So you need to reward ambition
P: Can you give examples of famous individuals who you
believe exemplify the idea that geniuses can be made?
S: Let’s start with possibly the most famous example of innate
ability: Mozart. If you look closely at his life, very closely (as I do
in my book), it’s actually a story about having extraordinary
resources, an extraordinary teacher (his father), very early
exposure, enormous ambition, and a work ethic that pushed him
from doing very ordinary work to extraordinary work over many
years’ time. Interestingly, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s early childhood
resembled Mozart’s in some powerful ways. Another amazing
thing to realize is that, using the modern teaching principles of
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, many thousands of very young violinists can
now play as well as Mozart did when he was young.
P: For those who have yet to discover their true talents and
abilities, what advice can you give to guide them toward the
path of genius?
S: With all due respect, it’s not about “discovering” your true
talent or hidden abilities. It’s about finding what you most want
to be great at, what you want to spend your entire life working
at, and then deciding that you are never, ever, ever going to
stop trying to become better at that. It’s about choosing a
domain, and a lifetime of practice and process, that will be
fulfilling to you along the way. And, guess what? It’s also okay to
change your mind and go in a different direction, or to decide that
you simply don’t want to do what it takes to become truly great.
It’s okay to decide you’re going to not be the greatest tennis
player but instead be the greatest friend. n
WANT A LIST of scientific research and
studies that support the claim of epigenetics?
Click here to access a collection of scientific
books and articles, compiled by Shenk.