Thoughts on “Sorry, Strivers – Talent Matters –”

None of this is to deny the power of practice. Nor is it to say that it’s impossible for a person with an average I.Q. to, say, earn a Ph.D. in physics. It’s just unlikely, relatively speaking. Sometimes the story that science tells us isn’t the story we want to hear.

Source: Sorry, Strivers – Talent Matters –

Malcolm Gladwell pushed the debate of how experts became experts into the mainstream with his highly successful book “Outliers: The Story of Success“.

I remember studying expertise behaviours and acquisition in my undergraduate psychology course, and most of the cited references were from the 1980s. So there’s nothing new about the ideas, they were just repackaged and marketed to the public.

The cited study in the NY Times article above is from the SPMY (Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth). Here are the links for the SPMY web site and one of the published studies.

If you had read it, you would have realised that the study is conducted on youths who scored highly on SAT, and their achievements are measured by the attainment of a PhD. Can the result then be generalised to other fields such as music, art, business, engineering, medicine, IT, and so on?

Perhaps some fields more than others, we should be cautious about over-extending and over-interpreting the findings of scientific studies.

We always have to be careful about how data and results from scientific experiments are interpreted. If possible, it’s best to go back to the root source. Don’t rely on a newspaper journalist to interpret for you.


About Hun Boon

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
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2 Responses to Thoughts on “Sorry, Strivers – Talent Matters –”

  1. Chris D. says:

    As far as overreaching with scientific data is concerned, music is the prime example. Or you can extend the case to any art. Of course talent matters! If music was a simple matter of mechanics, measured by the ability to crank out notes (sight reading or not), then pure effort would be enough. But it’s not. It’s a matter of *expressing* something. It’s a matter of understanding what the composer sought to express, and then interpreting it. It’s a matter of responding to the variables that arise in the course of a performance… Or even noticing them so you *can* respond to them (yes, you even need talent to properly *listen* to music). It’s a matter of having something to say. All the practice in the world can’t give this to you.

    Maybe the studies should consider ballet. I’m sure you would find that mere hours of practice are not what separate the corps from the star performers. Certainly in the ballet schools, those who go on to brilliant careers don’t necessarily practice more than their classmates. Ballet class is regimented, and hardly leaves energy to put in extra hours outside of the class (and extra work is often forbidden). What separates two ballet students of similar build, that special ingredient, is what we call talent — for lack of a better term. You can’t measure it in the lab. IQ tests don’t measure it, except perhaps as a correlated effect. Real artistic talent requires many things — intelligence, vision, courage, irreverence, reverence, knowledge, the ability to ignore knowledge, technical mastery, the ability to let technique go… The list rapidly becomes intangible. But trust me, when it comes to spending the outrageous prices to see a New York performance, I’m willing to bet you consider the importance of talent before laying down the cash.

    • Hun Boon says:

      The unspoken assumption here is that the quality of all practice sessions is identical, we simply need to measure the number of hours put in. Obviously this cannot hold true. How we practise, as well as how long we practise, must make a huge difference.

      Let’s take your example of ballet dancers. Would the calibre of the instructors matter? Or how about spending 10 hours on doing ballet drills vs 10 hours on performing ballet pieces? Which would be more effective?

      The idea of the right type of practice (deliberate practice) as put forth by Cal Newport on his Study Hacks blog is appealing to me. At the moment, there is only anecdote evidence but I do believe (or wish to believe) that he is on the right track.

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