Genius is made, not born

By Andy Crestodina

Laszlo Polgar started with a belief: “geniuses are made, not born.” The Hungarian chess teacher felt this notion so strongly, he wrote a book called Bring Up Genius! The book was basically a how-to guide for raising brilliant children. And through his children, Polgar had a plan to create a chess champion.

It was basically a social experiment. First Laszlo found a woman, Klara, to be the mother of his future champions. He married her, and together they had three daughters: Susan, Sofia, and Judith. From the age of three, the girls were immersed in the game of chess.

How did it work out? Today, the Polgar sisters are chess legends. Sofia is an International Master, and both Susan and Judith are Grandmasters. Judith actually became the youngest player to ever achieve that title. She was 15 years old. To this day, she is one of the strongest living chess players, male or female. She has defeated World Champions with names like Karpov, Kasparov, and Spassky.

Mr. Smith goes to Hollywood

Actor Will Smith is another example of planned success. He set out with a deliberate purpose to not just be an actor, but to be the most successful actor in the business. His manager James Lassiter said to him “Listen, if we’re going out to L.A., we probably should have a goal.” Smith replied, “I want to be the biggest movie star in the world.”

So together they looked at a list of the 10 top-grossing movies of all time. “We looked at them and said, O.K., what are the patterns? We realized that 10 out of 10 had special effects. Nine out of 10 had special effects with creatures. Eight out of 10 had special effects with creatures and a love story.”

In minutes, Smith and Lassiter had deconstructed the formula for Hollywood blockbusters. Smith’s conclusion? “Independence Day, no-brainer. Men in Black, no-brainer. I, Robot, no-brainer.” He pursued opportunities that would lead him down a specific path. It wasn’t an accident. It was a plan.

Vision + Work + Environment.

Success requires vision. In the case of Judith, that vision began before she was born, with Laszlo Polgar’s dream of raising a champion. With Will Smith, he started by analyzing the greatest successes in his field. They both understood Stephen Covey’s principle of “beginning with the end in mind.”

Success requires work. You must put in the work! You may have heard the “10,000 hour rule” made famous by Malcolm Gladwell. It takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become an expert. They both started early, but both Polgar and Smith have pursued their goals with intense determination.

Success requires the right environment. All that practice has to happen somewhere, so a favorable setting is critical. Polgar himself said, “Genius equals work and fortunate circumstances.” But your environment and circumstances can be controlled. If you’re not in a good situation for reaching your goals, change it.

Make your own genius

Your goals may not be as lofty as chess Grandmaster or Hollywood movie star. Success at this level requires almost total dedication. But all accomplishments at any level require these same ingredients. Whatever your goal, set your sights, create your environment, and get to work. Great things await you.

Author’s Bio: Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing You can find Andy on and Twitter.


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