Friday, May 26, 2006

The Nature of Talent

I'm sure we've all looked at other people's work with envy and wished we were as good. We'd all like to be better than we are. What's stopping us? Is it a lack of talent?

There was an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine on May 7, 2006 called "A Star Is Made: Where does talent really come from?" by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt. Here are a few quotes from the article.

"Anders Ericsson, a 58-year-old psychology professsor at Florida State the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement, a loose coalition of scholars trying to answer an important and seemingly primordial question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?"

"Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers -- whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming -- are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of cliches that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular cliches just happen to be true.

"Ericsson's research suggests a third cliche as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love -- because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

""I think the most general claim here," Ericsson says of his work, "is that a lot of people believe there are inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it." This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was."

No comments: