Understanding Talent: When A Difference Makes A Difference
Article Introduction (Via Greg Downey @NeuroAnthropology.Net)
‘The traditional assumption is that people come into a professional domain, have similar experiences, and the only thing that’s different is their innate abilities. There’s little evidence to support this. With the exception of some sports, no characteristic of the brain or body constrains an individual from reaching an expert level.’
Studying sports training and skill acquisition, I often run headlong into the concept of ‘talent.’ When I suggest that athletic achievement demonstrates the extraordinary malleability of the human nervous system, the ability of our muscles to remodel, the refinement of athletes’ perceptual acuity, and even how our skeletons can be reconfigured by training, audience members often respond, ‘Yeah, but what about innate talent?’
Or, confronted by the yawning gap between elite athletes’ performances and the ability of the average person, sceptics still want to focus on the slight differences among elites athletes (for example, Jon Entine’s book Taboo), suggesting that this tiny fraction of difference is the ‘innate’ part, the ‘talent.’ I can describe the years of arduous labour that go into producing elite-level achievement, the countless hours of training and sophisticated coaching, and someone will inevitably say, ‘Okay, but some people are just inherently good at sports, aren’t they?’
Article Excerpts (Via Greg Downey @ NeuroAnthropology.Net)
When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.
The problem for many people is that they’re not practicing deliberately; if they did, they would see a bigger improvement in their performance.
Far from being irrelevant, early differences may contribute to future expertise, as they are compounded, exaggerated, or even leveraged into entirely unrelated abilities.
Ericsson’s research suggests very strongly that what is really in short supply in the cultivation of expert performance is not initial ability, but rather expert coaching and motivation to continually develop greater skill