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The Myth of Talent

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
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At the start of the academic year, I always make the effort to introduce those student new to the subject to some of the current thinking on high achievement. There are a number of excellent books on this: Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” is perhaps the most rigorous for the teacher. Alternatively, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” posits that excellence in any discipline is only EVER a function of hard work. He argues that in order to become a high class performer, the individual needs to devote 10,000 hours of their life to the thing they want to excel in and then high attainment is made likely. He backs this up with examples from all walks of life: from Bill Gates to Tiger Woods.

However, for accessibility, I would say that Matthew Syed’s “Bounce” is the best book to try to motivate students, especially boys. It tries to explain sporting success as a function of hard work.

I give them a short excerpt about the “Talent Myth” and show them the following RSA Illustrated Talk, given by Rasmus Ankersen about underrated talent. We then discuss how this can apply to their Sixth Form studies. Much as the myth of the naturally talented individual drifting through life is appealing, it isn’t true very often.

Finding Underrated Talent 

Equally, Ankersen’s recent “The Gold Mine Effect” looks to pockets of excellence - Kenyan athletes in the town of Iten, Stephen Francis and the MVP Track and Field Club in Kingston, Jamaica and South Korea’s capacity to produce female golfers: the nation now accounts for 35% of the top 100 female golfers, whereas 20 years ago, it accounted for none – to identify what has allowed this talent to emerge.

I was particularly struck by one sentiment expressed in the book, attributed to Tim Gallway –who wrote “The Inner Game of Tennis” and subsequently adapted that to business:

Performance = Potential – Interference.

We need to recognize that all of our students are different and will have different interference factors. If we can, and we can start to help them remove that ‘interference’, then they stand a much greater chance of maximizing their potential. And if we can't try to do that at the start of a new academic year, when can we?




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