- 6/14/2023 7:52:20 AM
Regaining Talents- Part 3
Redealing the Cards
Barış Onur Örs
Developing the Talent
If we are different from each other, it means that there is something unique to us, something not found in others. Our unique qualities, solely our own, are a blend of beauties and flaws, much like a riverbed. As the waters flow, flaws will turn into competencies, and competencies into entirely different shortcomings.
A significant part of our life is spent trying to understand our abilities or our inadequacies. What we are competent in and what we are not is largely dependent on the conditions we find ourselves in. If we are surrounded by a shallow sociality that blocks the emergence of our talents, we may think that we are incompetent in many areas. Conversely, the shallow conditions surrounding us can sometimes make us see ourselves as more talented than we actually are. It also matters which behavior of ours the society we are in encourages and which it suppresses. As a result, the issue of whether we are born with a talent in a certain area will always remain open for discussion.
Researchers like Anders Ericsson and Geoff Colvin argued that people put too much emphasis on innate talents, while the key to true success is "deliberate practice". Researchers believed that the most successful students reached this level not just because they were talented, but also because they devoted a larger part of their lives to deliberate practice.
In a study they conducted in 1993, Ericsson and his colleagues examined the role of deliberate practice by comparing musicians of different performance levels in terms of various activities related to music. At the end of the research, it was seen that violinists with high performance levels practiced approximately three times more than those with low performance levels. Between professional and amateur pianists, this difference was almost tenfold.
Deliberate practice requires much more than just repeating a skill. It involves focusing on the challenging and out-of-comfort-zone aspects while performing an activity, using feedback, and constantly improving skill level. For example, instead of repeatedly playing a piece from beginning to end, a pianist can work on a specific section of the piece or a challenging technique. Regular feedback to correct errors occurring in the learning process and practice focused on constant improvement, intense concentration, and stepping out of comfort zones is Ericsson's main prescription for how skills can be developed.
Malcolm Gladwell, on the other hand, argues that success is not just a result of personal talent and hard work, but that successful individuals actually often use the advantages of certain opportunities and special circumstances. These opportunities and special circumstances are mostly determined by factors outside the individual's control - such as where you were born, in which family you were raised, and with which cultural values you were brought up.
Gladwell suggests that having access to a computer terminal as a young person played a significant role in Bill Gates's success. This was a very rare occurrence in the early 1970s, and Gates's access allowed him to spend thousands of hours in computer programming and develop his skills in this area. So, Gates had a particular opportunity and used this opportunity to the maximum.
Another example examines Canadian hockey players. Gladwell demonstrates that the best young hockey players in Canada are mostly children born in specific months of the year. This is because in leagues organized by age groups, children born earlier in the year are generally larger and more advanced. This situation provides them with more playtime and better coaching opportunities. Thus, these children find the opportunity to practice more and develop their skills. Therefore, this success is also associated with a factor out of control, like birth dates, rather than talent or hard work.
Gladwell's main point is that these types of opportunities and special circumstances are often decisive on the path to success. These situations are often overlooked because we tend to see success as a result of individual talent and effort. However, Gladwell argues that these environmental factors are the key to success.
Speaking of which, while Ericsson's "deliberate practice" approach formed a basis for Gladwell's "10,000-hour rule", which postulates that one can become an expert with 10,000 hours of practice, Ericsson has stated that Gladwell misinterpreted his research and that 10,000 hours of just repeating the same activity is not enough.
Another researcher working on talent development, Carol S. Dweck, points out that people generally exhibit either a fixed mindset (believing that talents are innate and cannot be changed) or a growth mindset (believing that talents can be developed through effort and learning). Those with a growth mindset generally achieve more success because they view their failures as learning opportunities and are constantly in pursuit of development and progress. Individuals with a fixed mindset generally give up when they encounter difficulties; because mistakes and failures are perceived as indicators of their personal inadequacy. A person with a fixed mindset usually does not try to learn a new skill because they believe they do not possess a certain ability. For example, one might not try to learn a new topic in mathematics, saying, "I'm not good at math at all". On the other hand, for those with a growth mindset, failures and mistakes are a learning opportunity and encourage more effort. A person with a growth mindset will put in more effort to develop a skill, even if they fail at the first attempt. In one of her studies, Dweck observed that students' math grades improved significantly over time by providing students with cognitive training.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, on the other hand, defines situations where a person is completely focused while performing an activity and does not notice how time passes by introducing the concept of "flow". According to Csikszentmihalyi, this usually occurs when we encounter an activity that is challenging but also suitable for our skill level. This state of "flow" is believed to play a significant role in talent development. In this situation, the individual's focus on the activity and enjoyment of the process helps improve their skills.
Another point is the importance of self-direction in the development of our talents. Most talented individuals practice some form of self-regulation and self-direction to develop their skills. This means the ability to sustain certain behaviors and stop others in order to reach specific goals. Self-direction is particularly important in processes like "deliberate practice", as this type of practice usually requires a high level of motivation and discipline.
An important part of talent development is the process of becoming aware of talents and identifying them. While some people realize from their childhood that they have certain talents, others may discover their talents in adulthood. Being aware of and identifying these talents usually helps the individual to understand themselves better and focus on developing these talents. However, this process may not always be easy. There are many factors that can prevent individuals from discovering their talents. These can include environmental pressures, biases, self-deprecation, and the lack of enough opportunities to develop their talents. This last point, in particular, means that inequalities can play a significant role in talent development.
While focusing on talent development, it is important to pay attention to how and for what purpose the individual uses these skills. Abilities can enrich a person's life and contribute to society. However, seeing abilities only as a tool for success and efficiency can reduce the joy one gets from these skills and even lead to stress and burnout. Therefore, it is important how we evaluate our skills and how we find motivation to use them. This helps both to develop our talent and to enjoy these skills.
In conclusion, talent development occurs through a combination of various factors such as innate talents, environmental factors, personal motivation, and discipline. The journey of every individual to discover and develop their own talents is unique and is shaped by various factors in their life. When developing our talents, it's important not to see them merely as a tool for achieving success, but rather as unique features that enrich our lives and set us apart from others. This perspective reminds us that talent development is important not just for being successful, but also for connecting better with ourselves and making our lives more fulfilling and meaningful.
The concept of talent is like a large pool where everyone has the opportunity to swim. However, it does not explain where and in what style each person will swim in the pool. Everyone is somehow above the water; sometimes the water becomes very wavy, and the people in the pool have to change places or review their styles. Those at a disadvantage suddenly find themselves at an advantage. Those who can stay underwater for a long time, those who can change places quickly, those who can cling to rocks... The pool is an ecosystem in and of itself. Therefore, unless external conditions, tasks, and goals are defined, the concept of "talent" may lose its function by becoming shallow.
Determining who is talented in what is not always easy. This is because the assessment of talents depends on the tasks to be done and the special conditions required by these tasks. This situation becomes more apparent when we talk about "innovation." The idea of innovation often demands a feature that surpasses the existing paradigm. Since the conditions of a yet nonexistent innovation cannot be fully known, it will also be difficult to determine who has the talent or knowledge to bring us these innovations. [Read more in Discovering the Discovering]
Especially today's technological developments are leading to changes in the fundamental elements that define talent. For example, if we consider the ability to run; we can say that today, outside of the sports field or very specific branches, there is little need for a fast runner. However, in the past, fast running was of vital importance in transmitting news between communities or even in recent wars. Similarly, many professions requiring special talent or equipped labor are giving way to automation today. One of the most frequently discussed topics is that employment may decrease in very specific, skill-requiring professions such as medicine, law, and even art and engineering. In such a scenario, the ambiguity of talent discussions is inevitable. Therefore, it seems more rational to focus on how we can improve our general skills and societal problem-solving practices by changing our questions when focusing on the concept of talent. Can't we transition from the question "How can we develop our individual talents by focusing on our career goals?" to "How can I provide societal, environmental, economic, and sustainable benefits?"
With the proliferation of artificial intelligence applications, the importance of having knowledge is also diminishing day by day. Until recently, to overcome certain problems, we needed a high level of qualified human power, i.e., special talents, and it would take us many years to raise these special individuals. Despite this need continuing today, the demanded special talent is no longer the ability to do a specific job. The tools necessary to solve specific tasks are already being created; automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies are being developed every day. In such a development line, it is vital for us as individuals to redefine the talents expected from us and, if you will, redeal the cards and define our roles.
Today, for example, it is theoretically possible for an uneducated, ordinary individual to sit in front of a computer and contribute to the world's most vital problems by asking the right questions... Although this individual needs to have undergone cognitive training to learn how to ask the right questions in the right way, the possibility of this person approaching the capacity of an average theorist by simply asking the right questions is increasing every day. For instance, why shouldn't this individual contribute to solving one of the biggest problems of our planet, the global warming issue? Isn't it odd that these artificial intelligences, readily available and increasingly capable, are seldom asked these questions? We ask them to perform tasks, write articles, and assist in our career planning, but we refrain from engaging in dialogues about how to save the planet. Perhaps if we could improve our ability to ask the right questions, AI algorithms could suggest ways to reduce carbon emissions or remove carbon from the atmosphere. Even if we don't have a degree in chemical engineering, it could inform us about "negative emission technologies". We could possibly develop a material with it, a super material that is light, durable, and capable of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; we could determine the chemical properties of this material together. We could have known, just sitting at our computer, that this material could be used in exterior cladding of buildings, bodies of cars and airplanes, ships and even spacecraft, and thus we could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As long as we received sufficient and consistent answers with the right and appropriate questions, we could perhaps turn our designs, big and small, into research and development projects under expert guidance.
Today's business world and technological developments require us to define and reorganize our individual abilities in different ways. Innovations demand brand new features that exceed our current conditions.
The talent development process consists of the combination of our innate talents, social and cultural environment, our learning and experiences, personal motivations and many more factors. Talent development can be a means of enriching the individual's life as well as adding value to society. However, for this to happen, we need to understand our talents and their development from a more human-centric and holistic perspective. How we use our talents also determines our responsibilities to society. Instead of viewing talent development only from a perspective of individual success or productivity, we should see it as a process that allows the individual to better understand themselves and provide a valuable contribution to society.
Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016)
Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006)
Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (2008)
Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990)