By Dr Charles Margerison – Psychologist
When reading the life stories of people who achieved a great deal in their lives, I asked, ‘How did they do it?’ After all, like all of us, they only had 24 hours in each day, and 365 days a year. So, how did Shakespeare write outstanding plays and Mozart create beautiful music, and how did Marie Curie work to achieve two Nobel science prizes?
Many of the great achievers were born before modern technology was developed. They did not have facilities like electric light or computers to assist them. Also, many of them did not live long lives.
Mozart died when he was only 35. William Shakespeare died when he was 52. Marie Curie was told that she could not study at a university in her native Poland. One thing is certain, they all used their time well to achieve a great deal, in a short time.
I have taken a special interest in researching the lives of people who were achievers. We can all learn a great deal from those who succeeded, particularly students, who need role models to inspire them.
I have, therefore, visited many countries and the cities where amazing people lived, in order to understand the conditions that formed their early development. I have looked at how people like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Einstein and others developed their talents.
The contributions of those in our series of amazing people life stories, are exceptional. Today, we are using these with teachers and students as part of our Amazing People Schools resource suite. We have developed the website www.amazingpeopleschools.com, which provides an interactive way for students to learn from the life stories of amazing achievers. This supports students in developing the skills and character strengths they need to thrive.
The following represents observations I have made along the way, in exploring the lives of these amazing achievers
Ability is one thing, but a high level and high quality of production is what counts. The sheer quantity of the work produced by Shakespeare speaks for itself. The same is true for Mozart’s music, despite the fact that in his early years he was always travelling from one city to another as part of his concert tours and had little time for formal education.
Although they were both geniuses in their respective fields, they did not take their gifts for granted. By applying themselves, they completed assignments, rather than just playing around with ideas. This principle applies to most, if not all, of the great achievers.
Most of the great achievers faced a number of difficulties and obstacles in their work. Gutenberg, who established the printing industry with his great invention, despite falling into debt many times, continued with his design and development of the printing press. He is just one of the examples of those who refused to give up, despite the problems he faced.
In some cases, it could be said that their determination to succeed became an obsession. This was certainly the case with Gordon Gould, who spent many years in the courts of law to prove his trademark case, regarding his development of the laser.
Others pursued their ideas, often in the face of adversity. Tesla, the outstanding scientist, moved from country to country in poor circumstances, looking for the support and resources to make his amazing breakthroughs. The story of his travels and problems en route are as interesting as his actual technical achievements. Certainly, without the determination and persistence of these individuals, against the odds, many great achievements would never have been made.
Often the achievers were faced with doubters who said they were attempting the impossible and it could not be done. Some, like Galileo, were faced by priests who threatened them if they continued. It did not stop Galileo, or others, who knew they were pursuing scientific truths.
The same is true in other fields. Marie Curie had to leave Poland and study in France in order to qualify as a scientist. The women who tried to become doctors in the late 19th century found consistent opposition from men in the profession, and often little interest amongst potential patients. They questioned what a woman could contribute to medicine. It may be akin to the concern some people have today, when they hear that a woman pilot is flying the plane.
Some people work hard, and are determined, but they do not always produce high quality results. The people who I have studied were achievers because they delivered. Scientists, like Nicolas Tesla and Gordon Gould would not give up until they had produced a solution. They were not just doing research for the sake of knowledge.
Charles Babbage made a major breakthrough when he developed a basic computer. However, he had difficulties, as few people took an interest in his work in the early stages. Therefore, his system was not put into wider use until much later. Once it could be seen that there were real outputs and results to be gained, people put more time and energy into the systems. That led to the amazing technology that we have today, based on Babbage’s original breakthrough.
It was not just about great ideas and art. It was also about organization and management. Some of the great achievers were able to make their designs come to life by organizing others through teamwork. Michelangelo learnt how to manage large projects within budgets and timelines. Not all the achievers had this level of organizational ability, but they all showed what they could do individually.
Alexander Graham Bell was an inventor of many systems. However, by themselves, those inventions may not have been known or widely used. Bell developed the ability to set up organizations to implement his ideas. In particular, his name became the brand of a major telephone organization in the USA, despite the fact that there were disputes over who invented the telephone. The essence of his success was in finding sponsors and managers to set up organizational systems, within which people could work, to provide excellent customer service.
The great achievers, in the main, were successful because they learned from their experience and actions. If things were not going well, then they looked at other options. In that sense, they were innovators.
Some of the achievers gained formal training, but, most learned from their own and other people’s practice. It was hands-on learning. Thomas Newcomen, the outstanding engineer, for example, was not trained in an engineering school. He learned by working on machines in the mines. Indeed, William Shakespeare, as far as we know, had no formal training as a playwright. He developed his skill by presenting his plays to audiences in London and gaining feedback from their reactions.
The great achievers showed there was more to be learned from doing. No doubt they watched others, and listened and learned in the process. But, most of all, they learned their trades by applying their ideas in practice. In that way they gained personal feedback on what would and what would not work. They were action learners. Thinking and talking were not sufficient. The real test was application. That is something we need to act upon today. Teachers need to provide more hands on action experience if students are going to learn more effectively.
For others, the driving forces were intellectual interests, and trying to discover how things worked. Charles Babbage worked with Ada Lovelace, who enjoyed the challenge of mathematics and its applications. Their work on the early form of the computer was like a puzzle that she wanted to solve.
In the field of music, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven were driven from within to express their beautiful music. It was not primarily money, or the hope of fame, that drove them forward. They had gifts and wanted to express them.
Sometimes, people get caught in the middle of forces that are not of their own making. In politics, this is often the case. For example, President Lincoln took a stand against the secession of a number of American states, where slavery was the main form of employment. Having done so, he was committed to seeing through the actions required. It led to memorable words and deeds.
Many great achievements emerge as a result of situational forces. War, for example, has forced people into thinking about new ideas. Leonardo’s and Michelangelo’s work was influenced by sponsors who wanted better defence systems. In more recent times, Fermi and others contributed to the development of nuclear weapons, as a result of situations of conflict.
Some people come across an idea and develop it, when many others would ignore it. Dr Alexander Fleming noticed an unusual occurrence in his laboratory. He observed, by chance, that bacteria on one of the experiments had been attacked by unexplained phenomena. He gave the name ‘penicillin’ to the reaction. Later, the scientists Florey and Chain found out how to develop this into a life-saving drug. They perceived how to go to the next stage in the development of the wonder drug.
In one sense, all achievers seize their chances. They have the perception to see ahead, and the determination to do something about it. That is why understanding the psychology of great achievements is important. It should lead to a more focused approach to developing education, attitudes and creative processes, consistent with innovation..
These, and other factors, lead to greatness and amazing achievements. However, in this review, I have not put much focus on money. My view is that the great achievers pursued their ideas because they believed in them. No doubt, many saw that if they succeeded, it could lead to wealth. But, their original motivation came from personal interest. They followed their star, or were driven by the needs and requirements of their situation. All of them did amazing things and deserve their accolades, as they have enriched our lives.
There is a series on the lives of Amazing People, written by myself, including:-
Amazing Careers, Amazing Entrepreneurs, Amazing Women, Amazing Scientists and many others.
There are a large number of positive psychology publications written by Seligman and others.
For follow up, please visit www.amazingpeopleworldwide.com .