How much, if anything, does innate genetically-endowed talent contribute to a child’s musical or mathematical or sports achievement? Or is it all just down to hard work and effort?
The talent versus effort debate has been raging in academic circles for at least 300 years. And it is still a very-much alive discussion in schools around the world.
But perhaps it should end now.
University of Pennsylvania professor, Angela Duckworth, summarises hundreds of reseach studies into human performance and ability in these simple equations:
Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement
So, talent counts but effort counts twice.
(And given that we have 0% control over talent and 100% control over effort, it doesn’t seem like ‘talent’ should get much, if any, airtime in schools, does it?!)
Australian rules football is a pretty strange sport – particularly if you haven’t grown up playing or watching it. It requires a range of hand and foot skills that are not very ‘natural’ for humans. Similarly unusual skills are required to play the guitar at a high level or to solve complex theoretical mathematics problems. No one, not a single person, is born with the ability to accurately kick at ‘drop punt’ with a football or play a blues riff on a Stratocaster. Clearly, these skills require practice.
But is it all just about practice? Can anyone do 10,000 hours of practice and then go and play professional football? And what about genetics? What about talent?
Aren’t some people just born better at sport / music / maths than others? Aren’t they more talented than you?
The answer, according to experts in skill development such as Angela Duckworth, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is: no and yes.
Duckworth defines talent as: the rate at which we improve with practice. It is talent times practice that creates a level of skill.
So, no. No one has ever been born better at football than you. And Jimi Hendrix was no better at playing guitar than you when he was born. But each time he practiced, his talent had a multiplier effect.
Therefore, yes. Hendrix had more guitar talent than you. But…he still had to do thousands of hours of practice to develop his skill – a level of skill that it may have taken you two or three lifetimes to develop!
Talent is real and it matters. But it is only realised and only really matters when we practice. So really, it’s practice that really matters. Clear?!
And, anyway, we have zero control over our talent but almost total control over our effort and practice. Let’s focus on what we can control. Go practice!