3 Key Elements Associated with Extraordinary Accomplishment

Gardner, Extraordinary Minds, 146-50


Having reached our adult years, and attained a certain level of competence in our chosen pursuits, we cannot assume that lessons from experience will automatically dawn on us.  We are well advised to devote effort to understanding what has happened to us and what it means–what we are trying to achieve and whether we have succeeded.  At a premium here is the activity called reflecting–regular, conscious considerations of the events of daily life, and in the light of longer-term aspirations.  Such reflection need not occur in journals or notebooks or, for that matter, even in the linguistic symbol system….

Just as one ought to reflect upon work, it is important to monitor one’s potential audiences–be they family, friends or peers, or those unknowns who will ultimately render judgment about inventions or writings.  Lessons from our exemplars are clear.  Seek feedback and listen to what others are saying.  Do not be overwhelmed; it is important not to jettison one’s own critical faculties.  But, especially during formative years, savor the careful feedback of individuals knowledgeable in the domain…


We are all deviants from the norm in one or more particulars–in the accidents of our birth, our combination of intelligences, the contours of our personality, the particular experiences that we undergo at home, in school, on the streets….

But it is less the fact of asynchrony per se that distinguishes extraordinary individuals: crucial is the extent that they can identify this unusualness and make it fork for them.  In speaking of leveraging, I refer to the capacity of certain individuals to ignore areas of weakness and, in effect, to ask: “In which ways can I use my own strengths in order to gain a competitive advantage in the domain in which I have chosen to work?”….


The capacity to identify one’s deviance and to convert it into a competitive advantage exemplifies the third feature of extraordinariness, what I have termed framing.  Briefly, framing is the capacity to construe experiences in a way that is positive, in a way that allows one to draw apt lessons and, thus freshly energized, to proceed with one’s life.

Every day each individual encounters some experiences that go well and some that don’t.  The extraordinary individual is not out of touch with reality; she does not paint clear successes with the brush of failure, nor does she resort to Pollyannaish attempts to ignore a failure.  Critical is the capacity to see not so much the bright side of a setback as the learning opportunity it offers–to be able to take what others might deem an experience to be forgotten as quickly as possible and instead to reflect on it, work it over, and discern which aspects might harbor hints about how to proceed differently in the future.

The cumulative effects of such framing should not be minimized.  Suppose, conservatively, that a future creator or leader has one experience a week from which she learns an important lesson: a few hundred experiences will have accumulated within a few years.  This accomplishment certainly places the individual in quite a different niche from the individual who does not pause to reflect or draw lessons at all, and from the individual who wholly misinterprets such experiences.

What may be inconsistent and inconstant for most of us becomes a habit of life for the extraordinary individuals.  And while a deviation of ten or twenty experiences may not show up as a blip on a cumulative record, deviations of several hundred experiences mount up to genuine differences in how individuals lead their lives.


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