Tuesday, 18 October 2011

“Everybody’s Good at Something”

“Everybody’s Good at Something”

I heard someone say this on the TV today and was reminded of just how prevalent this nonsense truism is. I remember being fed this conceit at school and wondering how it might apply to someone like Muhammad Ali. Could there have been someone better who, due to circumstance, simply hadn’t had the opportunity to discover their talent? And if so, perhaps there are countless people in the world possessed of undiscovered talents or talents for which circumstances do not yet exist or talents with no value at all.

Telling someone that they’re bound to be good at something is a handy way to turn their attention away from what other people possess back towards what they themselves have control over. In this sense it’s not an entirely bad thing but what is unhelpful is the extent to which this idea suggests that you simply have to look deep inside yourself to discover your unique talent and all will be well. It places practically no emphasis on the importance of practice, persistence and hard work. Far better would be:

Everybody can become good at something.

Though I suspect the reality of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is far less comforting than the prospect of simply uncovering an innate ability.


Lesley Punton said...

what about those things you discover you're quite good at having put no effort into them, (whilst others might have had to work hard to reach the same levels) and which you don't even pursue because it's not really where you want to take your life?

I don't think you can completely deny your genes when it comes to having greater aptitudes in some areas where you don't need to try so hard. I agree hard work will take any "talent" further (and I know you balk at the word talent...) but I think assuming everything is a consequence of hard work is, well, a bit presbyterian. Happy accidents, luck, genetics, circumstances and privileges all contribute to how "good" we become at things. Hard work is the major one, but not the only one.

J. Hamlyn said...

That list you give consists entirely of things that you can’t change whereas the list that I gave (hard work, persistence and practice) are all things that the individual can change.

I don’t doubt that circumstances play a part. Nor do I doubt that genes play a role in differentiation. But just because skill development is a complex process with multiple contributing factors shouldn’t lead us to the assumption that some mystical and undetectable force controls our fate.

If you believe in talent then presumably you also believe in untalent ie: that there are some things that a person can never be good at no matter how hard they try?

“Thirty years ago, two Hungarian educators, László and Klara Polgár, decided to challenge the popular assumption that women don’t succeed in areas requiring spatial thinking, such as chess. They wanted to make a point about the power of education. The Polgárs homeschooled their three daughters, and as part of their education the girls started playing chess with their parents at a very young age. Their systematic training and daily practice paid off. By 2000, all three daughters had been ranked in the top ten female players in the world. The youngest, Judit, had become a grand master at age 15, breaking the previous record for the youngest person to earn that title, held by Bobby Fischer, by a month. Today Judit is one of the world’s top players and has defeated almost all the best male players.”

Anonymous said...

What about the hard practise of looking deeply into oneself?

Very difficult work.


J. Hamlyn said...

- sometimes best achieved by looking deeply elsewhere.

Anonymous said...


'To study the self is to forget the self,to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things',Dogen


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