graft

Often the only approach that is going to be successful is just sheer hard graft.

We recently had a temporary member of staff, who was also finishing off studying for a legal qualification, and I have never seen anyone work so hard. Everything she was given she just got on with it, when she had a spare minute she pulled out her text books and worked through them.

At the same time I was studying a criminal paralegal course, and I tried to adopt the same attitude, just putting in the hours studying. Applying an element of critical thought, always asking if I was studying the right thing, in the most appropriate way. By the end I had put a lot of hours into the course, and got a result that was much better than I had hoped for.

By stripping out ideas of talent or aptitude, just seeing the issue as one of graft, applying the hours of effort required, constantly making decisions on how best to use your time resource, the emotions get drawn out of the process. It just becomes a more straightforward transaction. There is not a sense of entitlement, or that life is not fair, just a sense that you need to get on with it.

There is a similar lesson in Geoff Colvin's work on Talent is Overrated
http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/talent-is-overrated

Although media coverage has focussed on Malcolm Gladwell's book on Outliers, the Geoff Colvin book actually looks to be the better of the two. It stresses the value of deliberative practice, where you deliberately focus on the areas outwith your comfort zone and practice those, all the time getting feedback on how you are doing, until you finally get better at them. It even puts a figure of 10,000 hours on the time commitment required to be really remarkably talented.

Of course it is always possible to identify people that just seem to have a natural aptitude, but once you start to look into it, by and large their aptitude has been obtained via a huge amount of prior application. I overheard a conversation on the train, some architects chatting, and they mentioned the notebook that one of their number kept, it was packed with hugely detailed and wonderful drawings of architectural features that he had seen, they all kept such notebooks, but his stood out as incredibly impressive. Yet he kept the notebook to himself, never showed it to anyone. It was not a product in itself, it was just part of his creative process.

The designer's notebooks at the ECA were one of the most impressive things there. The endless iteration of ideas.

But what is talent? If we follow the definition that we are talking about a remarkable ability in something, then by definition that is all we are talking about. Media functions to bring to our attention people who can do remarkably well things that we can only do badly.

But what intrinsic merit is there in such talent. Does it benefit the individual? Does it benefit society?

We are not failures because we are not remarkable, we have made other choices, those hours went into something else. Often caring for others. But we can learn from people who just put in the hours of study, who did not just get lucky. People who jot down things, and organise their lives.

Perhaps the remarkable thing about remarkable people is that underneath they are actually not so much different from ourselves, they just put their time into different priorities. The question we should be asking is how wisely we did spend those hours, and how wisely we will use the hours before us.