While walking back to my hotel from a conference in St. Louis, I saw someone wearing a shirt that said “Lazy but Talented.” I think it was a Nike shirt. I’ve always been impressed with Nike’s advertising, but this slogan didn’t ring true. In the US, we seem to be overly obsessed with talent as if it is the most important part of success. It isn’t that talent is unimportant, but when it really comes down to what will make you successful, being hardworking is much more important. If you have tremendous natural skill, but aren’t willing to work hard, it is easy to be eclipsed by someone with moderate talent but an extreme drive to succeed.
Let me give you an example. Think of someone brilliant from the last 100 years. For many people, Albert Einstein would be one of the first names to come to mind and for good reason. Einstein fundamentally changed the way we see our world. The leap of imagination that was required to come up with the theory of relativity is truly amazing. Also, let’s not forget that the theory of relativity was developed while he was working in the patent office as a clerk. It was his after-work hobby. No one would argue that Einstein wasn’t talented. However, his IQ has been calculated to be somewhere around 135.
An IQ of 135 is definitely smart, but it is in no way as amazing as what he accomplished. Marilyn Vos Savant, on the other hand, has an IQ of around 200. This makes her one of the smartest people in the world. Her IQ is amazing as there are only a handful of people who might possibly be smarter than her.
If talent were the most important component of success, Marilyn Vos Savant should make Einstein’s contribution to physics seem trivial. Savant is most known for her column in Parade magazine and for having a record high IQ. 100 years from now, people are still going to know who Einstein was, but no one will remember Savant.
My goal isn’t to put down Marilyn Vos Savant–she is very skilled as an author and speaker and has a very good way of explaining complicated problems in very simple terms that are easy to understand. However, Albert Einstein achieved much more than she on a much smaller amount of raw talent. In fact, your talent doesn’t matter nearly as much as your drive to work hard and attempt to do difficult things. There is big difference between working out the statistics for the Monty Hall problem and working on re-writing the laws of physics.
If you want to achieve great things, you can’t rely on just being smart. You must be willing to work very hard on difficult things. In other words, “Lazy but Talented” is not a recipe for success.