Are We Born with a Talent, or Do We Learn It?

Roy Seah January 10, 20202 mins read

Hungarian teacher, Laszlo Polgar set off on one of the most thought provoking experiments in modern psychology. He had been interested for many years in how some people were able to demonstrate such aptitude in any given field that they were labelled geniuses.

In particular, he wanted to understand if people were just born with an innate talent or whether they could be ‘made’ into high achievers.

His conjecture was that talent as a concept of ‘God-given ability’ was widely overstated,and that environment, resources, support and circumstance far outweigh anything that is genetically predisposed. It was the actions of the individual and the commitment to mastery that really differentiated the individual. Of all things, he felt that it was ‘purposeful practice’ that mattered in sport and all disciplines, not heredity.

To show his point Laszlo introduced his first daughter to a chess board at the age of four. In his words: “I needed (her) achievements to be dramatic, so that nobody could question their authenticity. That was the only way to convince people that their ideas about excellence were wrong. And it hit me: chess.”

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Chess was objective. “If my child had been trained as an artist or novelist, people could have argued about whether she was genuinely world-class or not. But chess has an objective rating based on performance, so there is no possibility of argument.”

The results were astonishing. Laszlo didn’t stop with proving this with one child but eventually had three and they all excelled beyond expectation. For example: Judit, the youngest, became the youngest person to achieve Grand Master status. She was the first woman to win the U.S. Open and she beat world champion Gary Kasparov who once declared “women, by nature are not exceptional chess players”.

Whilst this might not be ultimate proof, this example gave inspiration to many more journalists and psychologists in the field. The common consensus is that with enough ‘purposeful practice’, anyone can be an expert at almost anything.

This subject clearly has some resonance when it comes to the commercial sector. Whether making decisions about your own career, your personal success or adding value to the business you are in, there is now scientific evidence that everyone is capable of achieving excellence with the right level of application, commitment and dedication.

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Roy Seah - R1325424's picture
Senior Consultant
rseah@morganmckinley.com

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