It seems that intelligence and being smart are not directly correlated, it's more complicated than that. In fact, different psychological factors contribute to outstanding performance in insight and creativity. In the late 1920s, Richard Feynman, who was then a young working-class boy nicknamed Ritty, struggled in literary subjects but scored around 125 on an IQ test, a result that is considered above average but not at a genius level.

However, as an adolescent, Ritty showed good math skills and started earnestly studying elementary textbooks. He did this so well that, by the end of high school, he placed top in a state-wide math competition. Then, the rest of Feynman's career is history. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his help in developing the theory of quantum electrodynamics that revolutionised particle physics.

His peers described Feynman's mind as unfathomable. He seemed to have an almost supernatural talent. To such an extent that Mark Kac, the Polish-American mathematician, declared in his autobiography that Feynman was not just an ordinary genius but a "magician of the highest calibre." Can psychology help us better understand such magic and the makings of a genius?

For starters, defining genius and finding obvious objective criteria to describe it is indeed challenging. Most definitions consider genius as an exceptional achievement in at least one area of expertise, along with flair and originality recognized by other experts in the same field. But identifying the roots of genius and the best ways of developing it is a trickier question. Is genius the consequence of high general intelligence, limitless curiosity, grit, determination? Or is it only the lucky combination of favorable circumstances difficult to artificially recreate?

Research on the lives of exceptional individuals - like Richard Feynman - can give us some answers. The analysis of the data doesn't offer solid support for the idea that people with high IQs are destined to be geniuses. Of course, the socioeconomic environment and circumstances count. In particular, children with educated parents and better household resources tend to achieve better on IQ tests, which increases their chances to thrive at school and in life.

Although this kind of evaluation is not perfect, IQ scores are correlated with academic results, career, and income across the population. It is certainly useful to be able to grasp abstract concepts that are key in many disciplines, and this is all the more in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), not to even mention literature, philosophy, or art. But when it comes to predicting genius, IQ scores seem to be only one piece of the equation.

Intelligence is a necessary - but not sufficient - condition for the greatest achievements. People with a higher IQ tend to have more creative insights. However, a higher-than-average intelligence needs to be linked to other traits to engender truly original and extraordinary feats. Curiosity might be a crucial one among those characteristics.

An attraction towards knowledge - curiosity - can certainly motivate people to push the limits within their discipline when others might just give up much earlier. Curiosity can encourage people to look beyond their speciality, which opens up their field of reflection. Nobel Prize-winning scientists have about three times more personal hobbies than the average person. And they are more likely to be interested in creative pursuits like music or painting, among many other things. Exploring different subjects helps them look at problems from different viewpoints, a powerful engine for original insight.

However, grit, the relentless pursuit of your passions even when facing setbacks, is probably as important as curiosity. Anyone in any discipline must first learn a vast amount of knowledge before being able to make their own breakthrough, which typically takes years of practice (you might have heard of the great work of Anders Ericsson regarding deliberate practice and the 10-year rule). Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania Psychology professor, who has pioneered research on grit (a fusion of perseverance and passion for a singularly important goal), thinks that grit, like IQ and curiosity, is a determining component of success.

Moreover, there is another parameter that could also play a big role. Even if you are endowed with the required positive traits - such as INTELLIGENCE, CURIOSITY, and GRIT - you still remain dependent on a crucial advantage to rise above your peers: LUCK. Indeed, you need to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, to fully exploit your talents, whatever they are - a conjunction of requirements that is almost impossible to master. This is why so many promising candidates for genius can miss the opportunities to invent and realize mind-blowing things. Still, best of luck!

Picture: This girl is a scientific genius (ChildUp & DALL-E - 2022)