So how do you get from talent to achievement? Angela Duckworth developed this equation to explain it:
"Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when take your acquired skills and use them. Of course your opportunities--for example, having a great coach or teacher--matter tremendously, too, and maybe more than anything about the individual. My theory doesn't address these outside forces, nor does it include luck. It's about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn't all that matters, it's incomplete.
Still, I think it's useful. What this theory says is that when you consider individuals in identical circumstances, what each achieves depends on just two things, talent and effort. Talent--how fast we improve in skill--absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice not once. Effort build skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive." (Duckworth, 2016, p. 42)
Check our next blog for examples to illustrate this.
Dan Chambliss who is a sociologist studied and observed swimmers in order to better understand talent and its effect on success. Angela Duckworth explained what he said about talent: Talent "is perhaps the most pervasive lay explanation we have for athletic success. It is as if talent were some invisible substance behind the surface reality of performance, which finally distinguishes the best among our athletes."
It's as if great athletes are blessed with a special gift that others don't possess.
"If we can't explain how an athlete, musician, or anyone else has done something jaw-droppingly amazing, we're inclined to throw up our hands and say, 'It's a gift! Nobody can teach you that.' In other words, when we can't easily see how experience and training got someone to a level of excellence that is so clearly beyond the norm, we default to labeling that person a 'natural'."
Dan reports that there are many factors that contribute to the success of great swimmers. Some of these include parents who can afford to pay for coaching, access to a pool, thousands of hours of practice year after year, and not to mention having an anatomical advantage. But the main thing is that success comes from many little mundane achievements. If you could see all the thousands of hours that produced excellence, you would see that it is just a culmination and gradual mastery of mundane acts.
There was a time that Dan got to watch Mark Spitz swim laps. "Spitz won several gold medals in the '72 Olympics and was the big thing before Michael Phelps. In '84, twelve years after retirement, Spitz showed up. He's in his mid-thirties. And he gets into the water with Rowdy Gaines, who at that time held the world record in the one hundred free. They did some... little races. Gaines won most of them, but by the time they were halfway through, the entire team was standing around the edge of the pool just to watch Spitz swim." The team kept exclaiming how amazing Spitz was. The same team mates that had been training with Gaines and knew how good he was. They knew Gaines was likely to win the Olympics. "Because of the age gap, nobody had swam with Spitz." Nobody had seen the mundane, day after day practice that made Spitz swim like a fish.
People like to believe in mystery and magic and a swimmer such as Mark Spitz that was born to swim like no other person is much more intriguing than acknowledging the mundane progress from amateur to expert. If we believe in mystery and magic then we "are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking...(and so) there is no need to compete. In other words, mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook." (Duckworth, 2016, pp. 37-39)
"Is talent a bad thing? Are we all equally talented? No and no. The ability to quickly climb the learning curve of any skill is obviously a very good thing, and, like it or not, some of us are better at it than others.
So why is it such a bad thing to favor 'naturals' over 'strivers'? In my view, the biggest reason a preoccupation with talent can be harmful is simple: By shining our spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that... other factors--including grit---don't matter as much as they really do." (Duckworth, 2016, p. 31)
Duckworth tells about the life of a psychologist just two doors down from her. Scott Barry Kaufman has several degrees from prestigious universities, has often had his research published in scientific journals, and plays the cello just for fun. However as a child, he was considered to be a slow learner, performed poorly on an IQ test, was placed in special ed classes, and repeated the third grade.
When he was fourteen an observant special education teacher questioned why Scott wasn't in more challenging classes. Scott had always assumed that his lack of talent would always limit what he'd be able to accomplish. "Meeting a teacher who believed in his potential was a critical turning point: a pivot from This is all you can do to Who knows what you can do?" At this point Scott started challenging his boundaries. He signed up for Latin, choir, the school musical, etc. These weren't exactly easy to him but learning the cello was. He began practicing eight to nine hours a day in order to show people that he was "intellectually capable of anything". He improved so much that he earned a seat on the high school orchestra. He kept up the work and found more time to practice such as during lunch time. By the time he was a senior he was second chair! He was winning all kinds of awards in music. He began taking honors classes and doing well in them. All of his friends were in gifted and talented programs and he wanted to join them, however the school psychologist told him that with his low IQ score he would not be able to.
Scott wanted to start studying intelligence and applied for the cognitive science program at Carnegie Mellon University. Even with his high achieving grades and extracurricular accomplishments he was rejected. He concluded it was because of his low SAT scores. He was determined to get into Carnegie Mellon so he auditioned for the opera program and was accepted because the music program did not look at SAT scores. He gradually took more and more psychology courses and then made psychology his minor. Eventually he transferred his major from opera to psychology and graduated Phi Beta Kappa!
"As much as talent counts, effort counts twice." (Duckworth, 2016, pp. 32-34)
The directors of PEERS love sharing anything that will help parents more easily be involved in their child's education and feel successful as a parent of a school aged child. We have all felt the struggle and found successes along the way that we want to share with you!