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This week, I’ve begun reading a new book by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, titled "Outliers: The Story of Success." The premise of the book is simple: no successful person is a self-made man; everyone who gets to the top had a lot advantages, help, and luck.

He devotes two chapters to geniuses. In our society, we expect people who are blessed with a high IQ to rise to high levels of success. Gladwell reveals that that’s not necessarily the case.

Consider Chris Langan, arguably the smartest man in the world, with an IQ of 200. (The average person has an IQ of 100; Albert Einstein rated 150.) With his natural intelligence, Langan should be at the top of any profession he chose. Early on, that appeared to be the outcome of his life:

"He was speaking at six months of age. When he was three, he would listen to the radio on Sundays as the announcer read the comics aloud, and he would follow along on his own until he had taught himself to read.

"In school, Langan could walk into a test in a foreign-language class, not having studied at all, and if there were two or three minutes before the instructor arrived, he could skim through the textbook and ace the test. In his early teenage years, while working as a farmhand, he started to read widely in the area of theoretical physics. At sixteen, he made his way through Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead’s famously abstruce masterpiece Principia Mathmatica. He got a perfect score on his SAT, even though he fell asleep at one point during the test.

"’He did math for an hour,’ his brother Mark says of Langan’s summer routine in high school. ’Then he did French for an hour. The he studied Russian. Then he would read philosophy. He did that religiously, every day.’

"Another of his brothers, Jeff, says, ’You know, when Christopher was fourteen or fifteen, he would draw things just as a joke, and it would be like a photograph. When he was fifteen, he could match Jimi Hendrix lick for lick on a guitar. Boom. Boom. Boom. Half the time Christopher didn’t attend school at all. He would just show up for tests and there was nothing they could do about it. To us, it was hilarious. He could brief a semester’s worth of textbooks in two days, and take care of whatever he had to take care of, and then get back to whatever he was doing in the first place.’"

Sadly, Langan has yet to reach his potential. He’s only had a year and a half of college, having been kicked out of two universities. As a young man, he worked on a clam boat, took factory jobs, and was employed in a minor civil service position. He spent most of his adult life working as a bouncer in a bar on Long Island. In that time he wrote a massive book combining philosophy, mathematics, and physics on the subject "Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe." Unfortunately, no scholarly journal will look at it, because Langan has no academic background. And he’s not personally very motivated to market the book to publishers.

Gladwell devotes some detail to Langan’s lack of achievement, but it really comes down to this: he didn’t know how to use the gift he was blessed with. His poor family background left him ill-equipped to handle himself around people and, as a result, his high IQ remains an untapped potential.

(From a sermon by Joel Smith, "Caution! God’s Favor...Handle with Care" 2/23/2009)

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