Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Innate Talent is Overrated

When you think of "talent," what do you think of? Perhaps some sports great, like Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali, or perhaps some sort of big thinker, like Einstein or Da Vinci. What about someone more contemporary - a technological innovator like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg? Maybe some of your heroes in your field, people who do things that you wish you could do, or could do things you do faster or better. But when it comes down to it, we often think of talent as some inherent factor that these fortunate people were born with. It is comforting to think of talent as something that is some ethereal, almost magical thing that is mysterious and wonderful and is something that we are either born with or without.

Bull poo-poo, we say. "But Monkey + Seal," you might ask, "what about that one gal who did XYZ and she is just so amazingly talented at XYZ and we have very similar backgrounds, and she's just so much better than I am." What you're really trying to ask is "why are they successful and I'm not?"

We try to think of talent as inherent, or something we're born with, because that way it explains the deciding factor, that one single thing that sets the successful apart from us. It is comforting to think of talent this way because if we don't, then suddenly our own flaws are exposed and we are now short of one less excuse of why we aren't where they are.

It is not easy to fess up and take ownership of the fact that there are people who are much more successful (whatever that means to you). But it happens. While admitting that talent is not some inherent ability you have to admit that maybe they worked harder/smarter/longer than you, and that's the painful part. But the great part about that is this: if talent is not some inherent ability that means that YOU are just as talented as they are.

If talent is something else, something not ingrained in us at birth, that means that everyone can get access to that something else and we can all be successful. So what you're probably wondering by now is that if talent is not some inherent trait, then what is it?

Enter Dr. Anders Ericsson. A professor at Florida State University, in the 90's, Dr. Ericsson studies students at the Berlin Academy of Music. He found that all the elite students had practiced, on average, for around 10,000 hours. The good students had practiced for about 8,000 hours, and the average students had practices for around 4000 hours. Thus, the 10,000 hour rule was born.

In nearly every discipline, people who are really outstanding have put in that 10,000 hours. So what does that mean for you? For one, if you want to start something, you might as well get cracking now. Secondly, if you're already on your way, all you need to do is keep doing what you want to do. If you want to be an amazing painter, you gotta keep painting. If you want to be a writer, keep on writing.

To make 10,000 hours a bit more tangible, Monkey did the math, and if you devote 40 hours a week to it (all of these assume you're not taking weeks off and are going at it 52 weeks out of the year), it'll take you about 4 years and 10 months. If you spend 30 hours a week, it'll take you 6 years and 5 months. If you spend 20 hours a week, it'll take you a little over 9 years and 7 months. These numbers are all assuming that you're working constant weeks as well, and doesn't really take into account things like school (we probably worked on art around 55 hours a week for three years), but you get the picture.

The fastest way to your goal is practice. Plain and simple. And if you've already hit that 10,000 mark? Keep on going, since there are always others out there with more hours. And if you're at the very top? Keep on going, since there are always people right behind you working their little butts off to get where you are. Besides, if you're doing what you love, you'll be having too much fun to watch the clock. Go get 'em.

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