Effort vs. Talent

Fascinating overview by Philip Ross on the notion of expertise from a psychological perspective. An article has been published in Scientific American and the magazine’s podcast has a segment with Ross.

One interesting issue is the very emphasis on expertise. Experts, like race horses, are heavily specialized. Examples in the article are mostly from chess and musical composition in the classical style. The study refers to “effortful study” which sounds a lot like Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow. In both cases, performance and achievement are allegedly easy to assess. But, well, where’s the fun?

Ross talks about golfers who stopped improving because they always play with the same people. But what some people seem to forget is that playing golf without improving can in fact be quite fun, especially if golf is just a part of the complete activity.

In the interview, Ross does allude to the link, common in the U.S., between schooling and work training. Schools are there to prepare a workforce and improving society as a whole is less important.

An important claim in the article and in the interview is that talent, if it does exist, is less influential than some people seem to think. We see similar things in music, especially if we adopt a broader perspective than simply thinking about skills. “Talented” musicians, those who have a specific predisposition for some musical practise, can succeed in many ways but music doesn’t simply progress by accumulation of skills. This notion is quite important in Ross’s article. Today’s experts are now more numerous and more proficient than during previous generations. Part of this must have to do with today’s emphasis on expertise (people are becoming over-specialized just to fit in the workplace). There’s also the well-known “standing on the shoulders of giants” principle, which accounts for the rapidity in training (although today’s Ph.D. candidates are, on average, much older than previous generations of Ph.D. holders!).

A lot of other things to think about this. But, recently, my policy has been to blog in short bursts. Hey, it’s fun!

About enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

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