Success predictors: I told You So…

My new hero, Jonah Lehrer who wrote, “How We Decide,” (a great book i am finishing up this week) share that becoming a great speller has to do with some natural talent, but really the willingness to push yourself. Tess quotes it back to me all the time, ” Yeah, Dad, i know it’s ‘all three things, 1.) Ability, 2.) Opportunity, and 3.) Discipline.'” Thanks Jonah for agreeing with my hectoring.

Amplify’d from www.wired.com

Which Traits Predict Success? (The Importance of Grit)

What are the causes of success? At first glance, the answer is easy: success is about talent. It’s about being able to do something – hit a baseball, play chess, trade stocks, write a blog – better than most anyone else. That’s a fine answer, but it immediately invites another question: What is talent? How did that person get so good at hitting a baseball or trading stocks? For a long time, talent seemed to be about inheritance, about the blessed set of genes that gave rise to some particular skill. Einstein had the physics gene, Beethoven had the symphony gene, and Tiger Woods (at least until his car crash) had the golf swing gene. The corollary, of course, is that you and I can’t become chess grandmasters, or composers, or golf pros, simply because we don’t have the necessary anatomy. Endless hours of hard work won’t compensate for our biological limitations. When fate was handing out skill, we got screwed.

In recent years, however, the pendulum has shifted. It turns out that the intrinsic nature of talent is overrated – our genes don’t confer specific gifts. (There is, for instance, no PGA gene.) This has led many researchers, such as K. Anders Ericsson, to argue that talent is really about deliberate practice, about putting in those 10,000 hours of intense training (plus or minus a few thousand hours). Beethoven wasn’t born Beethoven – he had to work damn hard to become Beethoven. As Ericsson wrote in his influential review article “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”: “The differences between expert performers and normal adults are not immutable, that is, due to genetically prescribed talent. Instead, these differences reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance.”

Taken together, these studies suggest that our most important talent is having a talent for working hard, for practicing even when practice isn’t fun. It’s about putting in the hours when we’d rather be watching TV, or drilling ourselves with notecards filled with obscure words instead of getting quizzed by a friend. Success is never easy. That’s why talent requires grit.

About Jonah Lehrer

About Jonah Lehrer


Jonah Lehrer is a contributing editor at Wired and the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. He’s also contributed to the New Yorker, the NY Times Magazine and WNYC’s Radiolab.
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