Genius does what it must, talent does what it can

There is a quote by Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton that has turned into an adage that goes....

Genius does what it must, talent does what it can.

This is sometimes also said as:

Talent does what it can, genius does what it must.


What does the phrase "genius does what it must, talent does what it can" mean‽

I have obviously never met the author of the quote, but this is what I believe the quote means.


Most people, I think, conceptualize genius as just being about intelligence. Intelligence is necessary for genius, but it is not sufficient. Genius requires additional cognitive qualities, in addition to intelligence. Joseph S. Renzulli noticed two other qualities, in which he formalized in his three-ring model of giftedness.

(Note that psychologists, psychometricians and a psychiatrists tend not to use the word genius, but instead use the word gifted.)

Task Commitment

The other 2 qualities which Renzulli found (in addition to intelligence) were creativity and task commitment.

The one that we want to focus on here is task commitment, as it will help us understand the quote.

Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior

What causes task commitment

Task commitment is the ability to involve oneself totally in a problem or area for an extended period of time.

What causes someone to teach themselves psychology, neuroscience or genetics, completely on their own and completely outside of an academic setting‽ What causes someone to keep on working on a math or physics problems, for weeks, for months, for years, until they solve it‽

Spend time around the top software engineers, data scientists, physics researchers, etc and the answer will become very apparent.

These people -- these people with gifted intellect -- exhibit obsessive-compulsive behavior.

What causes people with a gifted intellect to show task commitment is that they exhibit obsessive-compulsive behavior.

-- Mirza Charles Iliya Krempeaux
See Other Topics