American society is obsessed with the concept of giftedness. We test our kids to determine if they're gifted, then put them in specialized educational programs designed to maximize their giftedness. We search for prodigies and follow them as celebrities. We search our successful entrepreneurial heroes for their giftedness, and then look to replicate their special qualities.
But how important is giftedness? Is incredible success possible for average people?
What does it mean to be gifted?
In general, being "gifted" means having intellectual abilities well above the average. People who are considered gifted often have better pattern recognition skills than average, which can make them better equipped to take a fresh approach to problems or recognize an opportunity on the horizon.
While this sounds like a great way to get ahead in business, as any parent of a gifted child can tell you, being gifted can be its own kind of challenge.
The hardship of being gifted
Many children who grow up to be gifted adults demonstrate above average intelligence as children. This can make it difficult for them to fit in with peers, which can cause social awkwardness and frustration. Many gifted kids also find that while they are intellectually advanced, they can struggle with age appropriate reactions to emotions. Kids can end up emotionally isolated, acting like tiny adults, struggling to relate to kids. If parents don't help them correct this tendency, that can translate into a lifelong struggle to relate to other people.
Different types of giftedness
We tend to think of being gifted as being incredibly smart in the ways that are measured by IQ tests. It's important to remember that there are many different ways to be gifted. A person could have average intelligence, but have an exceptional ability to read other people, recognized underserved communities and fresh business opportunities, or have incredible spatial awareness that allows them to reconsider design features.
Just because someone's intelligence presents as average, that doesn't mean that they can't be successful.
What truly creates success?
There's a popular quotation attributed to G. K. Nielsen that says "Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, and then succeed on purpose."
While being gifted might give someone the idea of a phone that they can carry with them everywhere they go or a camera that stores pictures in terms of 0s and 1s instead of film exposure, it doesn't give them the drive and endurance to bring their idea to fruition.
Successful entrepreneurs are those who work harder, longer, and smarter than those around them. They recognize success in those that work with them, and plan for both long and short term problems and successes. They make life much more interesting for everyone and surround themselves with quirky things.
If you aspire to be an entrepreneur, you've probably already spent time reading about and learning from other successful entrepreneurs. Did you know that Steve Jobs once said that he was convinced that half of what created a successful entrepreneur was perseverance? Starting your own business is hard. It takes time, energy, and money. Many businesses don't so much fail as close, their owners no longer willing or able to continue to fight to make sure their business is one that survives.
While intellectual or interpersonal gifts might help a person succeed at business, there's no way to succeed in business without serious, intense, ongoing effort. Running a business takes intelligence, perseverance, the ability to wear many different hats and juggle a variety of priorities.
So if you're considering whether or not you might become a successful entrepreneur, don't worry about whether you graduated top of your class or know enough trivia to win at board games. Think about whether or not you're willing to put in the effort necessary to learn about marketing, accounting, customer service, product development, and everything else that needs to happen for a business to thrive.
Consider if you have the financial leeway to operate a business at a loss for some time while you figure out the things you don't already know. Contemplate whether or not your family is willing to put up with your absences while you work the weekends and nights that are so often necessary to make the difference between a hobby and an ongoing business.
But don't feel that you need to spend time regretting whether or not you are gifted.