by Allison Aboud Holzer

A recent Op-Ed article in the New York Times argues against the romantic view of creativity as innate and deriving from a “divine spark.” Two recent books, one called The Timagesalent Code by Daniel Coyle and the other called Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin position true creative genius as resulting from hours upon hours of painstaking and focused practice. Approximately 10,000 hours to be exact. That’s about 5 years practicing a full-time 40 hours a week with no vacation. It’s a curious thing to consider.

Part of me wants to believe in that romantic spark of genius that ignited Princeton Professor John Nash’s theory of equilibrium before the age of 25. In a way, it sets these protégées apart as having a unique talent that no plebian could ever aspire to achieve. However, the article argues that what really sets Mozart and Tiger Woods apart is their uncanny ability to focus on their craft for hours upon hours at a time.

There’s a name for this in the social sciences: Flow. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi studies Flow and says that achieving this state of concentration requires an optimal balance of challenge and accomplishment. Mentoring and coaching help achieving a Flow state by providing consistent feedback for development and growth. The ability to get into a state of Flow doing a particular activity really allows a person to gain those 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery.

But, do we need mastery, or even Flow, to feel content? Yes, no, maybe-so, depending on the person. While some people thrive on traditional concepts of achievement and mastery, others seem less concerned, because they don’t see themselves as artistic, scholarly, or athletic.

What if we expand our concept of mastery to include social and relational skills like: providing constructive feedback, expressing gratitude, parenting, managing, loving or jesting? Instead of thinking inside the boundaries of traditional “genius” talents (artistic, intellectual, and athletic), we also include mastery of social, emotional, and relational skills. I think, in this case, we can all develop areas of genius with about 10,000 hours of focused, intentional practice. A minimum of 5 years focused on one particular skill is similar to the process of getting a Ph.D. So, if you could get a Ph.D. in anything – parenting, loving, traveling, cooking… what would it be?

Don’t forget you’ll need to track those 10,000 hours for your dissertation defense.