Talent is a term that gets thrown around too easily and too often. World class athletes, musicians, actors and leaders are referred to as ‘Talented Individuals’. Many believe they’re born with an incredible gift, that they learn faster than the rest and they have a natural innate ability that makes them stand out from the rest.
Take for instance Marjorie Gestring, a springboard diver who won Olympics Gold medal at 13, Sachin Tendulkar, still a schoolboy aged 16 was picked up by the Indian National team for the tour of Pakistan, Mozart composed his first pieces at the age of five and Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight boxing champion at the age of 20.
What we’re really seeing here is the end-product of a process measured in years and decades. But the true invisible element that goes unnoticed is the countless hours of practice these individuals have put in to achieve such incredible performances. It includes endless drills, failing thousand times and trying repeatedly, mastering technique and form and spending hours alone perfecting their performances. In short, we call this the hidden logic of success.
If practice is denied or diminished, no amount of talent is going to get you there
In 1992, a small group of researchers in England went looking for talent. Guess what! They couldn’t find it. Their research clearly stated that the group of kids who spent practicing just 15 mins a day were part of the lower category while those who spend an average of two hours a day were part of the elite category. Long-distance runners have larger hearts than average person, table tennis players have more supple wrists, typists have more flexible fingers and ballet dancers gracefully rotate their feet through more degrees not because of talent but the fact that they’ve clocked 10,000 hours of purposeful practice. It is only by starting at an unusually young age and by practicing with such ferocious devotion that it’s possible to accumulate 10,000 hours while still being in early teens. There is no secret formula or shortcut, even if any child prodigy tricks us into thinking there is. In short, to become a master, one needs at least a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice.
Excellence emerges over the course of ten thousand hours of practice. Practice creates greatness.
With the International level performances of Sania Nehwal and PV Sindhu, many parents started enrolling their kids into sports institutes only to dream of seeing their kids achieve the same fame. But It’s the child’s desire to train that matters, not the parents desire to have the child train. They fail to understand that it’s not the child who has unusual genes, but the unusual upbringings. They must compress thousands of hours of purposeful practice (which is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it) into small periods between birth and adolescence – turning them into world class. This involves a lot of sacrifice from both the kid and the parents.
There’s an increasing evidence that ‘talent’ is highly overrated, and companies cannot progress simply by hiring the best talent and letting them do their jobs. Global brands like Apple and Google understand perfectly that their success is built on human capital. Hiring the right resource, providing them with the right platform, praising the effort, not the talent are few elements of a perfect recipe.
If one seeks greatness, then challenges must be seen as learning opportunities rather than threats. Nobody has got anywhere in life without working hard, by showing tremendous discipline, and by taking responsibility for their actions. That is what ultimately separates the best from the rest.
If you have enjoyed this post, I strongly recommend these three books on the same topic: Bounce (Mathew Syed), The Talent Code (Daniel Coyle) and Talent is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).