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The myth of talent

  • Published at 05:58 pm July 19th, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:31 pm July 19th, 2017
The myth of talent

How important is talent to succeeding in life? And how good a predictor is it of future success?

These are the questions psychologists have been trying to answer for decades. They have reached far, and most of their findings invariably show that talent, as we know it, is nothing but a myth.

It fails to predict future successes, and undeniably, isn’t the only prerequisite of the same.

Scientifically, it is almost impossible to measure how talented a person is. Even the term “talent” does not mean what most of us think it means. It is a term which is over-defined, over-used, and over-emphasised for no good reason.

Maybe they are born with it

One thing we all know spot-on about talent is that it is natural. It is a matter of luck.

It is one of the many features a human child is born with. Just like how every child is born with different features from one another, talent could also differ.

Big achievers

When we talk about big achievers such as Olympic medalists and other top athletes, top politicians, top businessmen, and even exam toppers, we inadvertently put talent as the main contributing factor of their achievements.

We conclude that they are talented and thus it has been possible for them to achieve these feats. We ignore every other thing that could possibly have far more important contribution to their achievements.

The most appropriate way to define talent could be how easily or quickly a person can pick up a new skill.

However, talent alone is inoperable. Talent comes into the equation only when there is effort. Effortless talent is like wingless bird.

It is the effort that ultimately can predict future success. Talent is fixed whereas effort is limitless (at least theoretically it is). A “less talented” person with more effort can easily overcome a more talented person who put less effort in an identical task.

Effort plus talent determines skill, and skill plus effort determines the probability of success. If talent counts once, effort counts twice.

Ignoring all the effort that someone puts to reach a breakthrough gives us a feeling of self victory. This kind of act also keeps our self-esteem intact

These are the findings of long a research done by American professor Angela Duckworth who teaches psychology in University of Pennsylvania.

We don’t like hard work

If effort is that important, why do we emphasise the importance of talent and always associate it with any big achievement?

This is another interesting question with a more interesting answer.

Mankind is naturally averse of effort.

We inherently fancy effortless achievement. We loathe hard work and love to dream as dreams require least effort.

So, when someone achieves big we feel relieved, thinking that it is not possible to achieve anything similar, as we are not as talented as them.

Ignoring all the effort that someone puts to reach a breakthrough gives us a feeling of self victory. This kind of act also keeps our self-esteem intact. We blame our luck for we are not that talented, and go to sleep in peace.

When we recognise only talent for any achievement, we fail to see the bigger picture behind. When we see Usain Bolt winning gold in Olympic, we just see his final runs. We do not see his daily efforts that he has been putting in for years.

Similarly, when we see Messi or Ronaldo scoring in important matches, we just see the winning shots; we do not see their years of hard work. We do not see the thousands of shots they took and failed to score in practice. We do not see their injuries, their frustrations, and sacrifices.

We only see and use the results of top researchers and sing praises of their talents, while we fail to see their sleepless nights, solitary times, and sacrificed social lives.

Am I trying to imply that talent is not important? Absolutely not. Talent is good to have. It helps to pick up a new skill faster. But it alone can’t ensure success.

And if it fails to ensure success, why should we care about it? Effort creates success. Effort makes things happen. Effort is what we should appreciate.

Forget talent

Unfortunately, we have created a society and a system which only values talent. It fails to inspire effort. By putting false importance on talent, we are missing out on many great minds and things.

Darwin, in particular, had confessed that he had never been a talented person.

He had one good ability -- to observe things well and put lots of effort to find the meanings from those observations. It was his effort that made it possible to develop the theory of evolution.

Ignoring effort and highlighting talent could be very detrimental to our society, and could lead us to darkness. Not all of us are born with talent.

But all of us have immense abilities to make efforts, efforts that could make the impossible possible.

Let’s stop the myopic treatment of “talent,” and start putting “effort” on our every endeavour until we succeed. Enough effort surely guarantees success even if we have zero talent.

Just like the Greek gods, talent is a myth.

SM Musa is doing research on Strategy and Innovation. He writes from the Netherlands and can be reached at [email protected]

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