Saturday, June 9, 2012

Developing Talent Through Disciplined Practice

What makes people successful?

Talent alone will not do it. The world is full of talented people whose achievements fall far short of their promise.

You will not develop your talent by following one of our culture’s mindless nostrums: do what you love, live your dream, follow your bliss or act according to your desire.

These can only be obstacles on the road to success.

Classical ethics would point to good character and hard work. Some would point to the Protestant work ethic. All emphasize the value of persistence and perseverance, especially the kind that you keep doing when hard work is not what you want to be doing.

Nowadays these are subsumed in what psychologist Angela Duckworth calls: grit.

Others have called it “disciplined practice,” hard work on repetitive exercises, the kind that are not fun but that lead to success. Researchers claim that you need 10,000 hours of practice to attain excellence.

If the pendulum, as Jonah Lehrer calls it, has swung from genetic predisposition to 10,000 hours of practice, it is fair to add that if you do not have talent all the practice in the world is not going to make you Beethoven.

Besides, Mozart was Mozart before he had the time to do 10,000 hours of practice.

A lot more people put in more than 10,000 of music practice than become Beethoven. How would the “disciplined practice” crowd explain that?

Take the Tiger Mom. She brought up two daughters. Both were subjected to the same level of disciplined practice at music. One became a wonderfully talented musician. The other did not.

Innate talent alone will not do the trick. But, without innate talent all the world’s disciplined practice is not going to make you a great musician or a great mathematician or a great anything

Perhaps it is not so difficult to understand why some children put in the 10,000 hours and others do not.

It may be that they had Tiger Moms and lived in cultures that valued achievement.

Perhaps their parents imposed discipline on them from a young age. Perhaps they attended schools that rewarded those who had earned their good grades.

Cultures that set themselves the task of turning talent into success believe that talent is a sacred trust. They believe that you and your parents and your culture have a duty to do everything they can to help you to develop your talent.

If that involves extra hours of piano practice or math exercises, so be it. If you don't like it, too bad.

To its discredit, today's American culture fears the negative psychological consequences of disciplined practice. In the name of mental hygiene is has militated against hard work, discipline, and repetitive exercises. In the name of mental health it is consigning America's children to mediocrity.


Dennis said...

There is a funny thing about practicing, it has to be something that improves one, maintains ones skills and become a "good" habit. Practicing has to have a purpose and goals that are set in an intelligent fashion.
What is the purpose of practice? It is in the long run teaching one's mind and body to react in a certain manner to the point that one does not have to think about it. Only then can someone really move into areas where excellence, innovativeness, et al are extant.
It is interesting that one hears that the way to Carnegie Hall is practice, practice, practice, but this is wrong because proper, well thought out reasons and goals are part of that practice. That is what keeping a diary aids immensely. It makes one think about the who, what, how, et al that go into betterment of one;s talent. Most people never understand that disciplined practice for the sake of practice accomplishes little more than standing in one spot.
One also, beside the requisite talent and practice, one needs a "fire in the belly" that is constantly there. Another is that one needs a good teacher, coach or advisor who can aid it developing all of the requisite traits need in success. An aside, when I studied with John Coffee of the Boston Symphony it was not unusual to see the top players of the time come in for a lesson.
Another is that one also has to develop a pleasant personality to go along with that talent. A large percentage of getting the good jobs is knowing how to be a team player. Begin to believe that you are the greatest thing that ever happened to mankind alienates the very people you need to aid in the constant progression of improving your skills. Believe me I know the errors of being a "hot dog."
Teaching and coaching others always gives more to the person who takes the time to help. Like all good ideas unless one verbalizes them one cannot see the fallacies therein.
Everyone has a talent, but most never find it. A society that does not engender talent exploration loses the talent necessary for its own survival.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Excellent comments, Dennis. Many thanks for the contribution.

Bob's Blog said...

linked here:

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for the link, Bob.