On a recent post on Untemplater.com, I wrote about how I think talent is created, not born. I called the post, You are a Monkey so Stop Thinking You are so Special. I learned a couple of things from the comments, apparently people don’t like being called monkeys and some people place a lot of emphasis on the genetic side of the debate.
Of course genes are important in many circumstances. It is difficult to be a professional basketball player if you are short. It helps to have big hands and feet if you want to be a world class swimmer. Good eyesight is necessary to be a pilot. So yes, genes do shape our future to a degree, but how often does genetic makeup really limit what we can accomplish?
The purpose of the monkey post was to show that since humans have 99.9% of the same genes as chimpanzees, maybe we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on our genetic makeup. The worst part of an over-reliance on nature over nurture is that it causes many people to give up before they even try. “I am tone-deaf so I can’t play musical instruments.” “I not good at math.” “I can’t draw.” “I can’t understand computers.” “I was never good at sports.” When we see others excelling we often say things, like “He is a natural.” “She is so smart.” They have so much talent.” Our language seems biased towards a belief of naturally born talent.
In the article, The Making of an Expert in Harvard Business Review, authors K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely say,
Popular lore is full of stories about unknown athletes, writers, and artists who become famous overnight, seemingly because of innate talent—they’re “naturals,” people say. However, when examining the developmental histories of experts, we unfailingly discover that they spent a lot of time in training and preparation. Sam Snead, who’d been called “the best natural player ever,” told Golf Digest, “People always said I had a natural swing. They thought I wasn’t a hard worker. But when I was young, I’d play and practice all day, then practice more at night by my car’s headlights. My hands bled. Nobody worked harder at golf than I did.”
Even personality traits can be learned, the authors go on to say,
A surprising number of executives believe that charisma is innate and cannot be learned. Yet if they were acting in a play with the help of a director and a coach, most of them would be able to come across as considerably more charismatic, especially over time.
In fact, working with a leading drama school, we have developed a set of acting exercises for managers and leaders that are designed to increase their powers of charm and persuasion. Executives who do these exercises have shown remarkable improvement. So charisma can be learned through deliberate practice.
Do you have the Running Gene?
I ran another marathon last week. I am still painfully slow, but I have managed to drop my time by more than half an hour over my last race in December. I am mentioning this because when I did my first few marathons, I was terrified the night before. Running 42 kilometers is scary if you have never done it before. It sounds like an impossible task. In some of my earlier races, I couldn’t sleep the night before and got incredibly anxious about what I was going to eat, whether or not I could make it to the toilet before the start, what was the weather going to be like, what was I going to wear. I was worried about everything. I always felt that my body isn’t designed for sports.
Now that I have completed many marathons and shorter races I have no anxiety at all. The last 10 kilometers are always a killer but I know I can finish. Like anything in life, the more I train, the better I get. My wife also runs with me and despite the fact that she only runs a few times a month, she is still managing to consistently improve as well.
This same nurture versus nature argument has played out in many different aspects of my life. I never thought I had any artistic skills. However, daily practice with some basic drawing books and Internet tutorials has improved my skills phenomenally. I only wish I started 30 years ago, then maybe I would be a ‘naturally gifted’ artist now. I have found similar results with guitar, business and blogging.
There is no Substitute for Hard Work
It is highly unlikely that people who are better than you have some genetic advantage. The most likely cause of the their success is focused practice with good coaching and other environmental conditions. Blogging is no different. Starting off on the Internet can seem daunting. Everyone appears to have beautifully designed blogs, great technical skills and an innate understanding of social media platforms. How can you possibly catch up? You do it the same way everyone else did, you learn one thing at a time. The more deliberate practice you put in, the more you will learn and the better you will get. Online, everyone is making it up as they go. The difference between the self-proclaimed experts and you is only the hours of time invested.
Sure some may have some genetic advantages, but for most of us trying to earn a living, stay in shape or find our calling in life, our own personal drive is far more important. Giving up on art, blogging or a business idea before you have had an opportunity to develop some competence is not a genetic problem. I have often used the genetic inferiority excuse to justify my lack of effort. Not anymore, for everything I want to accomplish in life I know that any lack of success in my endeavors can only be attributable to lack of practice or quality coaching. Those two factors are definitely within my control. As I often say, we all can do ANYTHING we want, we just can’t do EVERYTHING we want. I just need to focus on what is most important and put in the quantity and quality of practice to excel. Deciding on what to focus on is the difficult part of course, but I am pretty damn fortunate to have excessive choice as my biggest life problem.
What do you think, is nature or nurture more important to to success? What percent is attributable to each? For most life choices I would say that it is 90% nurture, only in certain elite level sports would it shift more towards nature.