To join the Mega Society, you have to score at the one-in-a-million level on an intelligence test. The group has only 27 members. Even those people, though, rarely claim to be geniuses. So what does it take?

As Dean Keith Simonton explains in “The Science of Genius,” IQ is not the only, or even best, measure of genius. Creative output is perhaps a better gauge. Even with an abundance of raw talent, it still takes years of work to achieve greatness.

Practice makes perfect, but it is a mistake to spend all your time working or studying. Albert Einstein, for example, got lots of sleep, played the violin regularly and had other interests besides physics. In “Fit Body, Fit Mind?”, Christopher Hertzog and his colleagues show that physical activity is strongly linked to mental acuity and can help slow the cognitive decline that comes naturally with aging. In “The Aha! Moment,” Nessa Bryce lays out concrete steps for making inspired mental leaps.

Parents and teachers want to unleash brilliance in children as well as themselves. In “Nurturing the Young Genius,” education experts emphasize the value of giving children opportunities to flex their intellects. In “What Works, What Doesn't,” psychology professors describe study techniques that accelerate learning—and reveal that the most popular methods are, in fact, a waste of time.

The good news is that intellectual abilities are not set in stone. That realization may someday lead to brain-training exercises, such as the ones reported by Ingrid Wickelgren in “Calisthenics for a Child's Mind,” becoming routine in classrooms. Researchers are already teaching some kids that “the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with use,” writes Carol S. Dweck in “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids.” She advocates a “growth mind-set” that focuses on effort and effective strategies rather than innate intelligence.

Approaching life—including the mistakes we all make along the way—as an opportunity for learning can make everyone more successful in school, business and even relationships.