It’s week 3 of Animation Mentor, and this week we’re learning to animate a bouncing ball. I think my bouncing ball will be so good that Pixar will want to license it for a new short film called “The Bouncing of the Ball” or something. Anyway, it’s going well; the workload isn’t overwhelming yet though I still wish I could get my sleep schedule in order so I could get my animation studying time into some kind of structured groove. Here’s my assignment from last week:

stupose1

The assignment was merely to observe other people’s poses and then pose the given 3D character. That took long enough; I can’t wait to see how long it will take to actually animate something that complex … *gulp*

geniusbook In other news, I just finished reading a good book called The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk. It basically argues against the classic notion that “genius” is just some innate quality that we’re either born with or without, most of us without. What we call “genius” is actually a set of skills that are highly developed over a long period of time, formed by constant practice and dedication. With enormous amounts of dedication, just about anyone can become a “genius” in any area they desire. The thing is, not many of us are willing to really dedicate that much time and effort to one area of study (and sometimes we can’t anyway, because of the demands of work, school, or family life). But realizing that just about anybody has the ability to become a genius in just about anything (though certainly not everything at the same time) is something few people seem to realize (though if you read through my blog here, you should see that I have long held this notion, as have others, so it’s not really an innovative idea, but it’s still a good book).

Some things mentioned in the book that I though were interesting:

Prodigies:

Firstly, there are plenty of prodigies who grow up to do nothing special, and plenty of successful adults (like Einstein) who weren’t prodigies. The qualities needed to be considered a “prodigy” and to be considered an adult “genius” are simply different. So if you weren’t a prodigy, relax, you can still do great things. And if you were a prodigy, you’re a loser now! Ha ha! See what it feels like!

No, what I mean is, if you were a prodigy, you can’t just rely on whatever made you a prodigy to help you compete in the adult world; you have to retain that constant drive to learn and practice and get better still, and this time without your parents and teachers praising how good you are to family and friends on the phone.

I watched this video on YouTube some time ago. A 6 year old girl plays an original composition on the piano.  Take note of what Ellen says at around 4:35.  She asks “How do you come up with this stuff?”  And the girl says “It just comes out!”  And Ellen says “Well, it doesn’t just come or it would come out of all of us if it did.  You’re very very special.” Oh, Ellen. You’re so funny. See? This is what a lot of people really think! Actually, Ellen, you could compose and play like that if you just practice for a few years. It’s really not that amazing. That you think you can’t anyway, however, won’t help anyone at all.  But Ellen is right; it doesn’t just “come out,” it’s practiced and worked towards.

How to be a Genius:

Chapter 7 includes some tips on how to become a genius; that is, how to work yourself to the bone to become good at something. The tips are very good (though easier said than done). The first tip is to find your motivation. Obviously it’s much easier to do something if you want to do it. Secondly, be your own toughest critic and identify your limitations and ignore them. Practice that will help you improve is not just doing the same thing over and over. You have to try to do something you cannot yet do. You have to constantly be finding areas you can improve in. You must delay gratification and resist contentedness. You might get to a point where people start praising you for your work, but you can’t be content with that. (Is praise your motivation, you shallow fool?!) You have to keep pushing yourself; never be happy with your work. I mean, you can be proud of what you’ve achieved, certainly, but the point at which you can’t find anything to improve on is the point at which you’ll stop improving (and become a big dummy). That said, you must also beware the dark side (bitterness and blame). You don’t have to psychologically mess yourself up by constantly thinking you’ll never be good enough, for whatever reason. When you push yourself, you must do it for the desire of getting better, not out of self-contempt. Finally, try to have heroes and find mentors. They will inspire you and teach you their secret ways.  (And, no, I can’t be your mentor, sorry to disappoint…)

Being a genius shouldn’t be the reward. Becoming a genius should be a reward in and of itself. You must learn to love the process, as it never truly ends.

Also, school is stupid and doesn’t help at all. Just thought I’d put that in there.

And all that said, you might be perfectly content with not being considered a genius. Nothing wrong with that. Lazy bum.

But … how does one practice effectively?

I’m still not really quite sure, the book doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail on this point. I shall have to do some further reading and research, I suppose. I guess some of it depends on what exactly you want to learn. And I suspect it has to do with what I mentioned earlier: finding some certain thing you are not yet capable of doing and figuring out how to do it. Give yourself little goals and then work to achieve them, and when you do, give yourself more goals. So I guess the trick is to find little goals that will actually aid you in your larger quest. For example, if you’re learning to play the piano, and you give yourself the goal of playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” even faster, that might not be as helpful of a goal as trying to play it with more accurate tempo or something. Or in learning to draw: If you wish to draw dragons that can only be seen in your mind, redrawing family photos from reference might not be as much help as studying anatomy and learning to recreate bodies in positions you do not have reference to work from. For arts like writing and composing, the art is so much more subjective that coming up with goals might be harder. Having a goal of simply “getting more praise from more people” just seems a bit stupid. Areas like that are, I think, more tricky. I could go into my thoughts about them, but I think that topic is worthy of another entire blog post, and I don’t really feel like getting all into it now.

Overall

Overall, I recommend the book, especially if you don’t already agree with its message, because you need to understand how wrong and foolish you are! I only deduct a few points because the author misinterprets an Ayn Rand quote, and gives too much unwarranted credit to Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, the “stupid old foolish scientist” as he’s known in these parts.

Happy reading! (Or happy non-reading, to all you non-genius folks…)


2 Comments

Scott · July 13, 2010 at 1:46 AM

I think that’s about right, but there are people with certain aptitudes (whether they are born with them or simply develop them early is up for debate i guess) for certain activities. I guess you could call them prodigies, but I don’t think it’s quite the right term, since everyone has aptitudes for things. For instance, some people really just don’t understand math, and even if they work really really hard to learn it, there is a barrier to what they can do with the subject. Some people have higher barriers, and some lower, but everyone has an aptitude for the skill set. I don’t believe that humans can learn without limit, which is actually one of the most pessimistic attitudes I have with regard to educational philosophy, despite the fact that I think everyone has at least a medium-level aptitude in multiple subjects or skills and that there is a high threshold of potential for everyone. Some things come easier to some people than to other people, and require less effort to perfect (though that same aptitude can often lead to becoming an underachiever, because the person does not develop the ability to work and build skills). If I were to pick an example, I’d say that Good Will Hunting (albeit fiction) is a good example of it — he sees the math and just understands how it works without any formal training. However, it is also supplemented by a love for books and reading, which allows him to build a knowledge base in other areas without any kind of formal instruction.

S P Hannifin · July 13, 2010 at 7:36 PM

I agree that people have aptitudes, and I’m sure that’s also related to people having different interests, but it’s very hard to say how much of that comes from the DNA and how much comes from environmental influence. It might be possible for you to have an “aptitude” for math, but if you’re raised in an environment in which people perform at math slightly better than you and you get discouraged and lose interest, then that “aptitude” may never show. So we can certainly say that people have different aptitudes, different strengths and weaknesses, but the origins are a much more tricky issue. It’s easiest, probably, to think “ah, he’s just dumb” but I think it’s much more complex than that. Our “potential for developing aptitudes” may be much more similar than we can know.

As for Good Will Hunting, I think that portrays a rather romantic and fanciful idea of genius, the sort of portrayal this book argues against. Geniuses like Will Hunting, who just have their amazing skills come super-easy to them, simply don’t exist. But when people imagine being a genius, that’s what they imagine: not having to really work for their skills. Unfortunately, in reality, it does take a lot of work. Good Will Hunting is simply quite unrealistic. As are many movies (and documentaries and books) that deal with genius, for that matter; they consider “genius” to be something innate and special, not something worked for. (That said, it is this daydream-ish unrealistic-ness that makes such stories and characters interesting, so I can’t really fault them.)

On a side note, the book actually quotes Good Will Hunting at one point. There’s a part in the movie where Will compares his genius to Beethoven, saying: “Beethoven, okay. He looked at a piano, and it just made sense to him. He could just play” and “I look at a piano, I see a bunch of keys, three pedals, and a box of wood. But Beethoven, Mozart, they saw it, they could just play.”

A bunch of crap! Historians have known that Mozart and Beethoven both practiced intensely and were raised in families obsessed with the art.

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