We’re sure we know what talent is, and that superior ability and greatness are the results of it. Research tells us something remarkably different.
By Ryan Malone
Are you talented? If so, what are you doing about it?
If not, are you sure about that?
What about your children—do you have a child prodigy? Or—do you think your children are doomed to mediocrity? Are you certain?
Just what is talent? Your definition of it could be cheating you.
In a culture saturated with “talent”-based reality shows, people tend to think greatness is something you either have or you don’t. Many people feel they have no talent—while others have convinced themselves that they were born great.
The word talent can be troublesome. As a music teacher, I often see it used to excuse laziness in both the “talented” and the “untalented.”
“Talented” people, it is believed, shouldn’t need to work as hard because of their natural endowments; while untalented people might as well give up, because they’re simply not as gifted.
The common conception of talent is, at best, vague and, at worst, debilitating.
In his book Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin does a masterful job explaining what “talent” actually is. He documents a bevy of research that explains, as his subtitle says, “What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else.”
The Biggest Factors
Colvin’s book came to the same conclusion that Herbert Armstrong came to years ago in the article he wrote for the Plain Truth called “Is Specialized Talent God-Given?” (January 1982).
There Mr. Armstrong related a conversation he had with the reigning soprano diva of the day, Montserrat Caballé, after a performance she gave in Ambassador Auditorium. He told her how Elbert Hubbard said that “genius is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration.” Mr. Armstrong continued: “She smiled. ‘Yes that is true,’ she agreed. ‘If one has talent, one must apply oneself and work very hard to develop that talent.’” Of those “greats,” Mr. Armstrong wrote: “They didn’t quit. They worked at it. They continued improving. They were not content with mediocrity. They became real ‘pros.’”
Hubbard’s statement was similar to something Susan Polgar said. The story of the Polgar sisters helped debunk the traditional “talent” myth. Lazlo and Klarah Polgar embarked on an experiment to put their children in a random field and see if the children could achieve greatness simply through hard work. They raised their daughters on a rigorous curriculum intended to make them masters of chess, something the parents had no extraordinary aptitude in. Sure enough, the girls grew into extraordinarily brilliant chess players. Susan, who became the top-ranked woman in the world by age 15, once said, “My father believes that innate talent is nothing, that [success] is 99 percent hard work. I agree with him.”
So at best, innate talent is 1 percent of it, as Caballé, Polgar, Hubbard and Armstrong all agree.
Full article here.