Natural Talent – Myth or Reality?

Talent is defined as any recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied

Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. Now, Discover Your Strengths.

What most successful people have in common? I mean really successful people who the best in what they do, people like: Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet. What make them so special? Maybe Michael Jordan was born with basketball player written all over his face? Was he gifted player from birth or he acquired all of his skills through practice? Do natural talents have anything to do with that?

The real question we want to answer here is: Do each of us  born with special natural talents or we acquire everything through practice and repetition?

Recently I came across a blog post “How to be great: rising above the talent myth”. In this post writer argues with the fact that we born with special talents and insists that everything we acquire is through practice and repetition. Also he point out to article written by Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor in Fortune Magazine. He wrote a book “Talent is overrated.”

Geoffrey wrote:

Scientific experts are producing remarkably consistent findings across a wide array of fields. Understand that talent doesn’t mean intelligence, motivation or personality traits. It’s an innate ability to do some specific activity especially well.

Definition described by Geoffrey assumes that talent something external. Activity to do well is an external factor, not internal. Being a great basketball player is external effect. To become a great basketball player for example you need some underlined talent. Example of such talent might be excellent movement coordination. He based all his argument on that assumption which is not a right assumption and I will explain why.

Also his article is persuasive and making its point. He knows how to write. There is a lot of interesting and useful information with examples. The main point in his article is that you can be anything you want to be if you practice hard enough, long enough and consistency.

It is really hard to disagree with Geoffrey. Deliberate practice and consistency is a key to win and be great in life. The disturbing fact is that message such as: you can be anything you want to be if you work hard enough is been engraved in us since early childhood. Could it really be possible that this is the number one reason (believe) that causing majority of people to work hard but end up feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled?

I believe that you can be anything you want to be. That is true. Imagination and hard work goes a long way. I also believe that one important point missing from this equation.

Lets take a look on what management guru Peter Drucker  said:

“Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong.  More often people know what they are not good at – and even then more people  are wrong than right. And yet, a person can perform only from strength. One  cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at  all.”

Let assume that your mother decided one day in your early childhood that you need to be math professor working for a big university because all members of your family are math teachers or scientist and because it is prestigious and you can make a good living. Great. They put you in school with best math teachers and they make sure that you do your homework and that you make a progress.

For some strange reasons (not as strange after all) your parents failed to notice that you always have inclination to musical subjects, enjoy watching various performances and trilled when classical music were playing. So you grow up, got a degree, became a professor because you are smart after all and work hard all this years and your hard work is finally rewarded.

But all this years for some reason you feel that something was missing, something wasn’t quite right. It seems what else do I need? I have a good family, good job and earning a good living. All those years you were attracted and pulled my music. You even learn how to play instrument all by yourself and spend most of your free time playing. You know that you feel  happy and fulfilled when you playing instrument. Time spending teaching math on another hand not making you happy at all and it is actually quite opposite.

Does it sound familiar? It is certainly familiar to me. I spend 15 years learning subject I don’t enjoy and don’t like.  Did I get a degree? Yes. You can be anything you want after all, right? Was I miserable most of the time? Yes. Could I possibly become the greatest programmer of our time if I practice hard enough and long enough?  I don’t think so and here is why. Because someone who enjoys computer science will work twice as hard, will enjoy doing it and will get ahead in no time flat.

Do you really think that someone who struggled with numbers in school can be a great accountant? I don’t think so. Believe such as “you can be anything you want to be” is destructive and lead to dissatisfaction and lack of self-fulfillment. You can become an accountant of course, but it doubtfully that if you struggled with numbers in school, you will have natural inclination to become one in a first place.

Totally different if you passionate about subject and you want to be involved learning more – that is your intuitive impulse which is the only reliable source you should listen to when deciding which path to choose.  And if your intuition telling you that music is something that you would enjoy doing- go for it, because it shows that you posses some natural ability which will allow you to excel in this area. Now, that you know that you have a drive for that, you need to put hard work, persistence and consistency to become really great.

Geoffrey Colvin’s article proving its point that you need to work hard and consistently to become someone great, but it is not providing any data that natural talents do not exist. And I think it is much smarter to work hard in area that you have chance to be great.

All in nature follows the path of least resistance. If we take closer look on what nature is telling us and apply it to our lives, we can discover our natural path of least resistance. By following our inner impulses we will be flowing in a direction of our natural abilities. This way we will work not only hard, but work smart and at the same time enjoy the process.