Monday, April 3, 2017

Are you gritty?

My latest reading material includes Carol Dweck's "Mindset" and Angela Duckworth's "Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance." I'm most taken by the following equation:

(talent) x (effort) = skill
(skill) x (effort) = achievement

Our society tends to reward talent rather than skill. At the very least, we often describe someone highly skilled as "talented" or "gifted," inadvertently disregarding the many years it takes to refine and develop one's talent. This is not a new viewpoint:

"With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. Instead, we rejoice in the present fact as if it came out of the ground by magic. No one can see in the work of the artist how it has become. That is its advantage. For wherever one can see the act of becoming, one grows somewhat cool."
- Nietzsche

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is demoralizing. If we are not among those innately "gifted," we feel inferior. Even worse, if we view ourselves as less "talented," we may simply not do the work. Conveniently, that lets us off the hook: since we're not somehow anointed with great talent, what's the point?

Look again at the equation. Talent only factors in once, while effort factors in twice. Yes, to build skill, talent is useful: building skills might come easier to one who's gifted. There is no denying that innate gifts can mean that progress comes faster for some. But note the inverse: talent without effort means skill is lacking, and without skill, there can be no achievement. We can go even further with this equation:

If someone who is half as talented works twice as hard, s/he might get just as far as the gifted person. By the same token, if someone talented works half as hard while someone half as talented works three times as hard...then talent isn't the determining factor at all.

There's no need to tell you the moral of this story. Get into the practice room.

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