Saturday, 26 June 2010

Talent is overrated

I recently read two excellent books: "Talent is overrated" by Geoff Colvin and "The brain that changes itself" by Norman Doidge.

The key message of both is that there is no such thing as being "naturally" good at something. Expertise/skill is not born but made and those individuals who appear to be light years ahead of everyone else are in that position because of years of specific practice.

Specific practice involves identifying your weaknesses and focusing on activities that can overcome them. It is often hard, but hard work is not necessarily enough. Spending a huge amount of time doing things you're already good at is not the most effective or efficient way to improve. The effort must be concentrated.

The reason why it works is neuroplasticity, a relatively new theory in psychology, which claims that the brain can change. Through targeted practice, neurons in your brain are induced to form new connections that allow you to perform new tasks and perform old tasks faster. A good summary is "neurons that fire together, wire together". There are some astounding stories of people who were born with enormous neural defects but have managed to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and attain a high level of intellectual ability.

This framework strikes such an accord with me. In the past I have been guilty of thinking that if I do an enormous volume of work (whether it be exercise, learning vocabulary, or work work) I will improve. It did help to some extent, but I could've got to where I am right now a lot faster if I had instead concentrated on what I wasn't good at.

From now on, whenever I detect a weakness or an area I could be better at, I'm going to pounce upon it! My first target is public speaking. I'm going to push myself out of my comfort zone and join the Monash Debating society next semester.

I strongly encourage you to give it a try and read the books:)

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