Dear E. Jean: It’s finally time to put my idea to work. I want to create a fragrance to be sold as a perfume. I’ve done the research on the scents (two from fruit, one from a flower). I have grown up with these delightful aromas in my backyard, and I would like to use them in a dramatic concoction, approach a company, and sell them the idea. I don’t want to fail! What do I need to start? I’m not smart about these things! —Scents-ible Girl From Florida
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Scents, Sweetheart: You don’t need big smarts. Superior performers (in all fields—chemistry, medicine, writing) possess IQs in the 115-120 range—dandy, but lower than the Mondo Genius range of 150: “You can be an international chess master with an IQ of 85,” says Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University Tallahassee and the editor of the gargantuan Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge University Press, 2006). It turns out you don’t even need extraordinary talent. “With the exception of height,” says Dr. Ericsson, “there’s no current evidence that innate ability is needed to reach the highest levels of performance.”
So, you can’t fail in creating a humdinger perfume because of insurmountable limits, Miss Scents. What you need is the motivation to work harder than everyone else. (“Count up the hours expended on deliberate practice,” says Dr. Ericsson. “Top performers in music [for instance] practice five times longer than the merely proficient.” )
If you’re serious, learn chemistry, develop your “nose,” intern with a company that makes fragrance, keep up with the perfume blogs such as basenotes.net, and before you do anything, read Chandler Burr’s article in the March 14, 2005, New Yorker about how Hermès selected its newest perfume. Burr will brutally crush the begonia of your illusions, but if you still believe you can create a hit, then be prepared.
According to Dr. Ericsson, elite performers in science, art, and sports put in at least 10 years of sustained effort. Coco Chanel was raised in an orphanage, opened a little hat shop in 1910, and a mere 11 years later the entire solar system reeked of Chanel No. 5.
This letter is from the Ask E. Jean Archive, 1993-2017. Send questions to E. Jean at E.Jean@AskEJean.com.