Kim Lajoie's blog

The talent myth

by Kim Lajoie on March 21, 2014

Rob Bradford:

You’ll often hear that “____ is super talented.” As to imply that he/she has some sort of natural gift or ability that enables them to just show up and perform. That’s why I hate the word “talent”. Because it does a disservice to everyone. It confuses people and it distracts them from the amount of obsessive hard work that really goes into making yourself successful at something.

This is something that I certainly agree with. I work with a lot of skilled and experienced people, yet I only ever hear the word ‘talent’ used by people who believe they themselves don’t have any. It’s used an an excuse for their lack of application.

I like that Rob mentions the disservice. The concept of talent minimises or ignores the actual hard work that successful people do, where instead it should be acknowledged.

-Kim.

3 thoughts on “The talent myth

  1. AQ says:

    Fair enough, but it isn’t a myth that some are more naturally talented than others. Most people, no matter how much they apply themselves, will never play piano with the virtuosity of Chick Corea, or drums with the virtuosity of Carter Beauford. Why? They’re unusually talented. I’m sure they don’t go around talking about it, as that would be gauche, and they probably rarely think about it, but it’s undeniably true. I think it’s just as much a disservice to pretend everyone is equally capable of every musical goal, if they only work hard enough.

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    Hi AQ,

    While I understand what you’re saying, I do disagree with you. The virtuosity of great musicians comes from their application. They have excellent teachers and they work long and hard to develop their skills.

    I hear a lot of people say they can’t achieve greatness due to [whatever reason, usually talent] but when you dig deeper, they haven’t actually applied themselves.

    I’ve never heard of someone who *did* apply themselves yet didn’t achieve greatness. I’ve never heard of bitter old people say they’ve put in their 10000 hours, they’ve practiced for hours every day for over a decade, and they still suck. “I’ve worked my whole life at this, put in my blood, sweat and tears, and I’m still not awesome.” Never heard it (outside of the humility of people who actually *are* awesome. And they’re not bitter at all).

    I’m happy to be proven wrong. Maybe it’s a big thing, and I’m just isolated and sheltered. Maybe all those people who did the work but didn’t get the results are complaining on websites that I never read. Maybe none of them live in Melbourne (where I live). Maybe they don’t mingle with other musicians, which is why no-one I know has met anyone like that.

    Or maybe they only exist in an alternate reality in which talent is a significant factor.

    -Kim.

  3. AQ says:

    Yeah, I agree with the gist of what you’re saying. “I’m not talented enough” is a common excuse, and skill gained through long practice is often mistaken (conveniently) for talent. With enough application most people can become proficient at a skill. But there’s undoubtedly an inborn component to all this, like there is to chess and basketball and ballet. I’m just pointing out common sense. We’re not blank slates. There’s a reason Mozart could write symphonies at age 8 while very few other children can, including driven children who have every advantage in learning music. Mozart wasn’t a wunderkind because he worked harder than everyone else, although he did work hard. He’s an extreme case, but the principle applies everywhere. People have different aptitudes, and different plateau points. Seems to me the world is full of musicians who’ve put in long years of hard training, and have become decently highly skilled yet have hit a wall at some point. Hard work reliably gets you to competence, even to “awesomeness”, but not necessarily to the highest levels of ability. And it’s cruel to say to the not-as-talented yet competent vocalist that he can’t do what Bobby McFerrin does because he just hasn’t worked hard enough. That’s all I’m saying. But I’m with you on the larger point.

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