The flight from the UK to Cape Town via Qatar is one of the most arduous journeys you can take in the world, and spending the night in Doha Airport could easily make a grownup weep. But when I was heading back home on this ghastly 24-hour route I found an excellent distraction: reading Bounce by Matthew Syed from cover to cover.
Much like John Richardson’s Dream On book about one man’s successful attempt to go from three-figure scores to breaking par in a year, this book might as well have been written specifically written for me and my quest.
Syed’s subtitle is ‘How champions are made,’ and it’s that final word made that sums up what the read is all about. He argues that the word ‘talent’ needs to be removed from the dictionary because there’s no such thing. Tiger Woods and WA Mozart were not gifted…they simply worked harder and started doing so earlier than the rest.
Given that I’m trying to ‘make’ myself into a top golfer despite no obvious ‘aptitude’ for the game, this is exactly the kind of news I needed to hear. But as I’ve already learnt in the many conversations I’ve had with people about my quest, people don’t like the idea that hard work can get you somewhere. As Syed quite rightly points out, they prefer to believe that they can’t do X well because they’re simply not ‘gifted’ at it. The idea of that we’re subject to the whims of genetic ‘talent’ is, of course, the perfect excuse for giving up on being good at anything. And that’s why a lot of people won’t like what Syed is saying.
We all know how Tiger was barely out of nappies when he played his first round of golf – and he never stopped working at it. ‘Talent’…or exceptional dedication? Syed makes good arguments for the latter, and I can think of more. Take Formula 1 drivers…almost to a man they started kart racing when they were little fellas. Can you find any driver at the sharp end of the F1 grid who started racing at, say, 20? Not Hamilton, not Button, not Vettel, nor even Schumacher simply jumped in an F1 car at that age and went fast because they were ‘talented’. They’d all done thousands of practice laps since primary school…in ‘wunderkind’ Vettel’s case, since the age of seven! Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Another great case study Syed uses is the story of Laszlo Polgar, who believed ‘geniuses are made, not born,’ and deliberately set out to ‘make’ some chess grandmasters. In 1967 he decided to prove that ‘talent’ could be created, stating that he would have children and make them chess champions. Sure enough, after giving his daughters an early start and getting them keen and working on the game as early as possible, all three became great names in chess circles. Susan Polgar, in fact, became world number one at 15 and later the first female grandmaster.
Here is the full article.