Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Talent vs Hard Work

I heard a brilliant episode of FourThought on Radio 4 tonight. Matthew Syed is a former table tennis champion who was spending 15 minutes of airtime talking about the tensions between talent and hard work, and which of these is the key to success.

Syed argued that anybody who is any good at anything has practiced that activity for thousands of hours. Even Mozart, as a young boy, had spent thousands of hours working on his piano playing, and his progress had not always been astronomical - he progressed at a normal pace, but spent so long working hard at it that he became the child prodigy he was.

London's black cab drivers have a massive knowledge of the capital's roads and how to get around them. In fact the relevant part of their brain is larger than it is in non-cab drivers! But they weren't born that way - they developed their brains through hard work and practice.

While talent may be important, it is hard work that leads to success.

Also Syed discussed how, if the key component to success is talent, there would be no point in working hard. And talented people would always expect to rise to the top.  Which would give us a lazy society, where nobody bothered to work subjects they weren't top of the class in.

Running Guru Jack Daniels makes similar points in his book Daniels' Running Formula. Assuming there can be no hard work without motivation, Daniels believes

"there are four kinds of distance runners:
1. Those who have inherent ability and the motivation to use that ability
2. Those who have the ability to do well but aren't motivated to use their ability
3. Those who lack much ability but have great motivation to achieve success
4. Those who lack ability and aren't motivated."

While Daniels states that it's the type-1 runners who are champions, he also helpfully says that it is type-3 runners who are "fun to coach and deserve your appreciation and attention."!

Daniels adds that opportunity and direction are key factors in achieving success in running.

Paul McKenna makes more similar points in Change Your Life in Seven Days. He talks about "neural pathways", and how learning new habits - like believing in your own success - is a matter of strenthening those pathways in your brain.

So, whether or not you are born with "talent" - you can still achieve ANYTHING YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO.

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