Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Talent vs. hard work

In the July 24th Scientific American, an article by Philip E. Ross examines the abilities of chess players and how they are able to visualize not only quantities of possible moves but the quality of them as well. Discussing Herbert A. Simon and William Chase' Chunking Theory, or how the brain creates meaningful patterns out of data, Ross examines questions of how this ability is created, both in chess and music. In the world of prodigies, Ross concludes that it is hard work rather than innate talent that determines the success of beginners:

Although nobody has yet been able to predict who will become a great expert in any field, a notable experiment has shown the possibility of deliberately creating one. László Polgár, an educator in Hungary, homeschooled his three daughters in chess, assigning as much as six hours of work a day, producing one international master and two grandmasters--the strongest chess-playing siblings in history. The youngest Polgár, 30-year-old Judit, is now ranked 14th in the world.

Ross' conclusion:

Thus, motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise. It is no accident that in music, chess and sports--all domains in which expertise is defined by competitive performance rather than academic credentialing--professionalism has been emerging at ever younger ages, under the ministrations of increasingly dedicated parents and even extended families.

Well, not just motivation. Motivation merely causes an atmosphere where a lot of hard work can take place. To get to that state, good teaching and good parenting are factors that can create a fully supportive and motivating atmosphere for learning, whether at chess, music, sports, or core subjects such as math and language.

(Via Arts & Letters Daily)


Personally, I've never been a great believer in talent. The t-word gets bandied about rather indiscriminately in the musical field, especially with the poor kids who get branded very early on as either having or not having it. One distinct memory I have after auditioning for a teacher when I was around 15 was that their first words, spoken rather nonchalantly, were: "There is....some talent", as if I were a stock that had some intrinsic value based on some intangibles known only to the very few. Needless to say, I didn't end up studying with that person. I digress. Oh, and did I mention that the teacher quoted above is now a colleague of mine at the RCM?

Furthermore, after teaching at the collegiate level for 12 years now, former students of mine that have gone on to work in the profession are often not the ones who were the official superstars in their university years, but usually the ones who decided to bear down and do the work, get along with those around them, and knock on the most doors after graduation.

No comments:

Post a Comment