#200 from R&D
Innovator Volume 5, Number 2
A Template for
Dr. Ludwig is
the E. A. Edwards professor of psychiatry at the University of
Kentucky Medical School. His
book, The Price of
the Creativity and Madness Controversy (Guilford Press, New
York)was published in 1995.
qualities are needed to make original discoveries, create great
works of art, achieve superstar status, or achieve what no one has
achieved before? What
special circumstances are necessary for the nurturance of genius?
What personal price, if any, do people have to pay to
arrive at the upper rungs of eminence?
Over the course
of ten years, I studied a representative sample of over 1,000
deceased, 20th century men and women who were prominent in the
arts, the sciences, public life, business, the military,
exploration, and social activism.
Extensive information was gathered on their childhoods,
families, education, careers, physical health, and mental health.
To measure professional eminence, I used a creative
achievement scale that correlated highly with the number of lines
allotted to a person in the Encyclopedia Americana and Encyclopedia
standards included lifetime fame, reputation after death,
innovation, foresight, productivity, and influence on colleagues
and on the public.
To find out which
personal attributes and circumstances predicted great achievement,
I used a logistic regression model to compare 250 of the most
eminent and 249 of the least eminent members of my sample on the
basis of 30 promising variables.
The results revealed that this model fit the data most
exactly, correctly classifying over 90% of the cases.
Rather than any single attribute being identified with
greatness, the findings revealed that a special combination of
elements comprised a “template” for exceptional achievement.
This combination of elements includes a special talent or
ability, the “right” kind of parents, being a loner, physical
vulnerability, a “personal seal,” the drive for supremacy, and
psychological “unease.” Under
proper social conditions, fortune favors those who possess this
template over those who do not, and adversity doesn’t deter them
truly great achievers usually show extraordinary abilities, such
as photographic memory, perfect pitch, an ear for languages, a
mathematical facility, or a keen, active intelligence.
With a need to hone their skills, high percentages of these
people get college degrees or doctorates or attend special
schools, such as music conservatories or art academies.
As youths, they are self-learners and do more than their
formal training requires them to do.
They read widely, practice incessantly, study under top
tutors, attend the best schools, study under the masters, and
become increasingly adept in their preferred media of expression.
In a sense, they have become servants to their own talent.
Parenting and Mentoring
Parents of the
truly great seem to recognize the exceptional qualities of their
children and provide them with the necessary tutors, educational
opportunities, and other resources.
These parents often have creative talents of their own and
are more likely to suffer from emotional problems as well.
During their professional careers, members of the upper
elite also are more apt to find influential mentors who recognize
their special abilities and aid them in their career.
for greatness tend to have difficulty working within the framework
of existing paradigms in their fields.
To create new schools of thought, blaze new trails, make
major discoveries, or promote new products, they must show
irreverence toward established authority and readiness to discard
prevalent views. They
have an attitude set that is oppositional in nature.
This antagonism to traditional beliefs and practices
assumes many forms. They
are most likely to be irreligious and to resent authority,
including the authority of their parents.
members of the upper elite are more likely to be loners and
regarded as a bit strange. As
adults, they engage in solitary pursuits and avoid social
to collaborate, they don’t work well in groups or committees,
unless they are in charge. Their
work represents an extension of them, and they resist outside
demands that detract from it. This attitude is often advantageous in the arts and certain
scientific pursuits in which it is necessary for individuals to
spend long periods of time alone.
In fields where teamwork or group effort is required, such
as business, politics, or the military, exceptional people may
find it more difficult to gain lasting fame when they can’t take
full credit for their achievements.
The truly great
individuals are more likely than those less eminent to suffer from
physical ailments during their lifetimes.
As children, they are more likely to be sickly or frail, to
experience a life-threatening illness, or to have physical
of this, they’re more apt to have disruptions in their schooling
and spend more time at home in the company of often solicitous
from their peers, they tend to develop solitary interests, like
reading, and perhaps begin to feel different from others.
Then, as adults, they are more likely to have serious
chronic physical disorders. Though
others may find these illnesses to be daunting and professionally
detrimental, these individuals don’t seem to let them get in
their way. Rather,
they learn to work around them or find ways to turn them to their
fragile health may also contribute to a sense of urgency in
pursuing their creative goals.
creators at the highest level of achievement, especially in the
arts and sciences, characterize their works with a personal seal
or professional signature. Whatever
they do, their accomplishments have to become specifically
identified with them. History
doesn’t accord greatness to people whose personal identities are
part of a group or organization.
Like tombstones, the works and products of people tend to
serve as ways of personally identifying them.
People at the
upper rung of creative eminence have a drive for dominance,
supremacy or power that goes beyond professional ambition and
influences the scope and nature of their goals.
They act as though they have the need to be the leader,
pioneer, master, founder, or originator.
When they meet social resistance, they try to shape and
bend their environments to suit them, rather than adapting to
their environments. Naturally,
this great drive isn’t likely to be found in people who doubt
their abilities or have modest goals.
This drive tends to be found in those with supreme
self-confidence and expansive aspirations.
achievements don’t arise from emotional contentment, nor do they
necessarily confer peace of mind.
Members of the upper elite tend to be restless, discontent,
driven, and impatient. Their
successes don’t satisfy them for long.
This feeling of being on edge often serves as a source of
creative tension, which only becomes relieved when they are busily
at work or in the midst of problem solving.
People with great curiosity and intelligence need to keep
their brains active solving problems. Once they seize on a problem, the problem takes possession of
them and begins to dominate all aspects of their lives.
When no solution is forthcoming, they may have trouble
sleeping, eating, or relaxing and are likely to become irritable
and short-tempered. Often,
the source of the creative tension may come from emotional
problems, but it need not. What’s
impressive about these individuals is their ability to “turn the
power on” in their brains when they’re engaged in
problem-solving and to keep the power on for as long as it takes
to do the task.
These appear to
be the main elements of the template. All represent integral parts of a whole.
No single element takes on special significance without
reference to the other. Because
of this, there’s no simple formula for great achievement.
Precociousness or the right kind of parenting means little
without the drive for supremacy.
Contrariness or the capacity for solitude means little
without special skills and originality. Or a chronic sense of psychological unease may mean little
without the opportunity, skill, and desire to emblazon one’s
work with a personal seal or signature.
Few outstanding individuals have all the elements of this
template. But with
the right combination of most elements and under the appropriate
circumstances, many individuals manage to make their mark on
society and achieve some measure of personal immortality.