Riva Capellari

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Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

May 2011

News of Note Newsletter

Innate Talent vs. Practice and Hard Work

May is traditionally the month in which we celebrate graduation; a time for parents and friends to harbor high hopes
for those high school and college students starting a new chapter in their lives. But how do we define success? Are our expectations helpful or do they hinder?

In 1998, psychologists Michael Howe, Jane Davidson and John Sloboda published the statement “Innate talents are,we think, a fiction, not a fact.”

In other words, anyone can achieve high levels of excellence through hard work alone. Recent books, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle address this same issue.

Some psychologists, while having their own doubts about the "talent account", do not fully embrace this premise. While the necessity of hard work seems obvious for proficiency, others question how this theory may play out in cultures where hard work and great effort are considered the norm, but the expected achievement not always reached. If we subscribe to the idea that if someone practices enough, works hard enough, they will be a high achiever, what happens when this plan does not pan out? The individual alone then shoulders the burden of failure and must suffer the realization that they indeed, didn’t try hard enough.

This concern does not negate the responsibility of each person to strive for improvement. We are all born with certain inherited traits, but according to psychologist Gary Marcus, there is no blueprint for how these traits will develop and be realized in one’s life time. Author Judith Rich Harris states, "it is the complex mix of heritable traits played out within the larger social world of peers that have the most effect upon he way children turn out".

So does the idea that not everyone is capable of greatness have a negative effect on self-esteem? Some studies have shown that low self-esteem does not necessarily result in failure. In fact, those with high self-esteem, deserved or not,may deem themselves to be superior and therefore have no need of training or practice. This "inverse power of praise" coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, sets up a "fixed mindset" versus a "growth mindset". Relying only on talent to maneuver the road to success, results in a void leaving one unable to proceed in any direction, so that ultimately, despite their great talent, they fail. Golf great Sam Snead recalls how everyone said he had such a natural swing, but the reality was, he practiced and worked very hard from the time he was young, sometimes until his hands bled. Praising someone for their talent without acknowledging the long term effort involved, can be both harmful and hurtful. So how do parents and teachers deal with this dilemma?  Wanting to encourage their children and students to do their best, while at the same time helping them understand that we may not all end up as great athletes or musicians or Pulitzer Prize winners? Part of the answer can be found in research that demonstrates that supportive parents and teachers involved early on in the learning process, actually do have a big impact on the success of a child, regardless of their innate talent. And what about greatness? How important is it compared to the journey we take to try and get there?Innate Talent: Myth or Reality. Lynn Helding. Journal of Singing. Vol. 76, #4. March/April, 2011.

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