The dangers of innate talent – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2, 3, 4).
In the many examples mentioned in past weeks, we’ve seen that “talent” is developed by deliberate practice. If you were wondering if it applied to sports, Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” starts with an interesting insight into how sports talent is picked. Gladwell analyzed data on professional athletes to show that the overwhelming majority are born in the second half of the year. Since this means they fall in the older half of the class, they tend to be physically better developed in their age group when they are young. This gets them selected for intensive practice and the rest is history.

Ericsson’s research supports this – for some sports, one could speculate about some minimum talent requirements – e.g. height and body size. Beyond that, however, practice seems to trump everything else. We also have strong reason to believe that early practice shapes our physical and mental attributes. So, we might be born with a preference for music over sports, for example. But, that counts for little if we don’t practice it.

And, therein lies the dark side of the innate talent hypothesis – believing in innate talent, we tend to write kids off before they have a chance to practice.

Nobody questions that Mozart’s achievements were extraordinary compared with those of his contemporaries. What’s often forgotten, however, is that his development was equally exceptional for his time. His musical tutelage started before he was four years old, and his father, also a skilled composer, was a famous music teacher and had written one of the first books on violin instruction. Like other world-class performers, Mozart was not born an expert—he became one. – Anders Ericsson

Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson

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