Talent Outs

There was an extensive article in the International Wall Street Journal a few days ago about talent. And it cites research that refutes the “practice 10,000 hours” nonsense. It shows that in some pursuits, very little practice (or none at all) still provided for top performance.


I’ve always thought speakers who claimed they practiced the same (boring) speech they’ve given for 20 years regularly before they delivered it yet again were either lying or had a severe learning disability. When you’re really good at something, you can do it regularly and easily “cold.”


The amount of practice I put in (with my coach’s evil glare presiding) to shoot free throws (then “foul shots”) didn’t improve my average. On a “cold” day with no practice, I could still shoot 90%. No amount of guided practice made me into a decent baseball pitcher, but I made the all-star team as a lousy shortstop who could hit like crazy. An observer told me, “You have the most natural swing I’ve ever seen.” Still do. Don’t ask me why, I never had a batting coach.


I’m not saying that practice doesn’t help many people. I’m sure it aids concert pianists and maybe some golfers, but no amount of it could help me master the simplest of songs or hit a ball on the ground by swinging a club. A great deal of practice hasn’t helped a lot of speakers, from clergy to executives, yet I can speak extemporaneously and galvanize a room.


If it were only as simple as “practice” then everyone would master whatever they chose. There is improvement possible, no doubt, but not guaranteed.


Talent outs.


© Alan Weiss 2014

One thought on “Talent Outs

  1. I’ve been working in the education sector recently and there are some observations and ideas that to point to practice as the only way to improve, under certain conditions. Those being deep, focused practice, and a very short feedback loop.

    Those that try and fail, I would suggest, do not practice deliberately nor receive enough timely feedback. As time goes on and there is minimal improvement, they never receive the spark of passion we often associate with ‘talented’ individuals.

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