Talent Does not Equal Genius

The more I read books about great creators the more I see how we’ve misunderstood talent.

Most of us have a fixed mindset when it comes to talent.

We think we are born with x amount of talent and it’s fixed, we can never go beyond that.

Talent is only a small piece of the puzzle.

Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated says:

“The phenomenon seems nearly universal. In a famous study of chess players, Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon and William Chase proposed “the ten year rule,” based on their observation that no one seemed to reach the top ranks of chess players without a decade or so of intensive study, and some required much more time. Even Bobby Fischer was not an exception; when he became a grand master at age sixteen, he had been studying chess intensively for nine years. Subsequent research in a wide range of fields has substantiated the ten-year rule everywhere the researchers have looked. In math, science, musical composition, swimming, X-ray diagnosis, tennis, literature—no one, not even the most “talented” performers, became great without at least ten years of very hard preparation. If talent means that success is easy or rapid, as most people seem to believe, then something is obviously wrong with a talent-based explanation of high achievement.”

Too often we see the fruits of someones labor only after years of them hustling and working their butt off and call it TALENT.

Sure they started off with talent.

But that’s not what made them great. The hard work was.

We rely too much on this fixed idea of our innate talent to achieve greatness.

I love Angela Duckworth’s take on talent.

She is a researcher that wrote a book called Grit and in one of her articles she provides a wonderful equation for reaching skill and achievement.

She tells us:

“I have been working on a theory of the psychology of achievement since Marty [Seligman] scolded me for not having one. I have pages and pages of diagrams, filling more than a dozen lab notebooks. After more than a decade of thinking about it, sometimes alone, and sometimes in partnership with close colleagues, I finally published an article in which I lay down two simple equations that explain how you get from talent to achievement.

Here they are:

talent x effort = skill
skill x effort = achievement

Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them. Of course, your opportunities—for example, having a great teacher—matter tremendously, too, and maybe more than anything about the individual. My theory doesn’t address these outside forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that maters, it’s incomplete.

Still, I think it’s useful. What this theory says is that when you consider individuals in identical circumstances, what each achieves depends on just two things, talent and effort. Talent—how fast we can improve a skill—absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

Effort counts twice!

Find any masterpiece of creation out there that you love.

Then research the person who created it.

You will find a ton of discipline and effort behind it.

Did they start out with talent?


But it’s their work ethic, effort and shear tenacity that brought the masterpiece to life.

What I love about this is that we all can make masterpieces if we are willing to put in the effort.

Back to you:

Are you focusing a bit too much on your talent?

Have you fallen short on any creative habit then stopped for fear that your not talented enough?

Maybe today is the time to get back to it?

Chris Beaven

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