Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What makes talent?

Recently I read Malcom Gladwell's The Outliers about why some people are super successful. It is an interesting book but missing a concluding chapter. He does point out that success is more than an individual. It is based on a web of inheritance and community that gives the individual the drive to take full of advantage of opportunities. Some of the opportunities may be masquerading as obstacles but ultimately the lessons learnt provide incentives.
He explodes the Amadeus myth -- basically that there are some people who are so blessed that they never have to work at achieving. He also points out that raw intelligence scores do not tell you very much about how someone will succeed as being successful takes more than just intelligence. Beyond a certain threshold, it is more a matter of drive and desire. Gladwell pointed to a study done by K Anders Ericsson of musicians who attended the Berlin Academy of Music. Those who were thought to the ones who would teach basically spent three hours a day practising so by the time they were 20, they had amassed 2,000 of work. Those who were tipped to be concert soloists practised significantly more, increasing the time spent with each year and by age 20, had amassed some 10,000 hours of practice. He then looked at professionals and found the same thing. Those who succeeded worked much much harder than anyone else. They did not find any genius who simply was. And neither did they find a grind -- someone who had actively put in the hours practising and got nowhere.
The need for putting in the hours also goes some way towards explaining why people are generally super successful in one area and not necessarily so clued in in others. There are literally only so many hours in a day.
Mozart is not touched by God but a man who was hothoused from an early age and encouraged to devote his life to music. Without his father and the era into which he was born, it is doubtful that Mozart would have become as great. He lived and breathed music. He put the hours in at a very early age and was encouraged to do so. He was lucky because of the encouragement. However despite his undoubted mathematical talent (music depends on maths) Mozart was not over gifted in managing his money.
The same holds true for authors. Those who really succeed have generally put the time in. They have learnt their craft and put the hours in. They did not just dream about it but worked hard. They are also supported and encouraged along the way -- mainly Sometimes the public have been able to see the journey --for example Hemingway learnt his craft through journalism. But others have stacks of short stories, half finished novels etc gathering in the attic. Still others spent hours recounting stories to their children, siblings etc before they ever started to write them down. I think it would be impossible to find a highly successful author who did no writing or storytelling BEFORE they wrote their first book. Equally it is entirely possible for aspiring authors to take courses etc and never put in the hours practising. They simply want to be. The will to succeed is not there or perhaps so many other things hold the person's interest. Not everyone wants to be as single minded as an outlier. Some people like to have a life. It is always about the choices the individual makes.
So what do you think? And are you willing to put the time in to pursue your dream? And how have you encouraged others to pursue theirs?

Michelle Styles still reckons that she is putting in the hours to make up the 10,000 needed. It takes about 250 -500 hours to write a novel. Her next novel, her 10th published for HMB, The Viking's Captive Princess is published in December 09 in the North American market.


Mary said...

My dream since I was little was to be a writer. I wrote journals thinking I would publish an autobiography, but that would have read more like a hoor book and probably made my family mad. lol So I started writing a book, but when I thought it was finihsed it was only 200 pages long, double space typed. Yeah, not really long.

So When we started keeping hamsters and rats as pets I found out all I could about them and thought when I was reading different websites about how to care for them that. I could tell people how to care for their new little furrbabies, so I did.

I now have more than 100 articles published, most on small animal care. I Started where I thought I needed to be and after some trial and error I ended up right in the place I needed to be in and am happy doing it.

My brother wanted to make furniture but he wanted weld. So he got an arc welder and asked the farmers around his neighborhood if he could ahve their used horse shoes. He ended up welding otgether a whole mess of horse shoes and made my mom a really cute book table for the end of her couch. She even found a small round piece of glass to fit it. So now he welds tables and is happy.

I think alot of us think we know what we want to do and we end up finding what it was we really will be happy doing.

Mary said...

*That should say Horror book, not hoor book.* lol

Michelle Styles said...

Oh Mary, that is wonderful about ending up where one is happy.

Hooray that you are writing articles on the care of hamsters etc.

And lol on hoor instead of horror. But my typos are probably much worse. Personally I blame the keyboard...

Emmanuelle said...

Very interesting blog.
I'm not an author (aspiring or otherwise) but stll, it's very encouraging to see people work hard to reach their dream ;-)

Michelle Styles said...

Oh I am pleased you liked the blog Emmanuelle.

And people do not have to be writers to need to work hard to achieve their dreams. It happens in all walks of life.
One thing that really impressed me was that Gladwell looked at the affirmative action programme at University of Michigan Law School. What he discovered was the eventual outcome of the career was not dependant on the test score. Other factors such as determination to succeed came far more into play, being able to turn setbacks into opportunites etc are far more important in determing outcomes. I was particularly impressed with the girl who was in the KIPP programe and who was willing to spend hours on her homework so that she had a chance to break free from the poverty cycle.

Linda Henderson said...

Very interesting blog. I am not a writer either but I appreciate all the hard work authors go through to get a book published.

Michelle Styles said...

Linda --

Yes it is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

And as someone else put it -- there is the storytime -- the length time in the story.
The reader's time - the length of time it takes the reader to read it
and the writer's time, the length of time it takes for the author to write the words (and sometimes it is rewriting and rewriting the words)

Jane Holland said...

I don't want to explode the 'work hard and you'll succeed' myth, but I put in 10 hours a day as a semi-pro snooker player, over about five years, and although I got to 24th in the world, that was my ceiling. After a certain level, you do need talent as well as hard work! ;)

But maybe I'll be a little better at romance? I'm certainly putting the hours ...

Great blog!

Mary said...

Michelle, I am going to start blaming the keyboard for my typos from now on. I like that idea.

Michelle Styles said...

Jane -- 24th in the world is pretty good. And you do not know if you had put in 12 hours a day or whatever what could have happened. Or if you had started sooner...
And it is not just practice, it is taking full advantage of the opportunities and a certain amount of your heritage coming into play or even when you were born. For example most professional hockey players are born before 1 September because of the extra coaching they get as 8-10 years which enables them to put the hours in and the skills to grow.
It is an interesting theory.

Mary -- blaming the keyboard works for me. I KNOW I type things correctly but sometimes they come out wrong.