November 23, 2008

Effort and Inherent Talent

Filed under: Human Relations, Philosophy — Robert John Ed @ 6:11 pm

Inherent talent is pretty rare.  Most people have to work a long time at becoming good/great at something.  So when someone is a prodigy, society notices.  You can call it whatever you want, but it’s advanced evolution if anything at all.  Genius is much the same and although a genius by definition does not need be a savant, they do require an aptitude beyond three standard deviations of the mean in the upward regions of the IQ graph.  So there aren’t a whole lot of geniuses.

 Consequently, trying to build a company or a movement around genius or inherent talent is difficult to do.  Choosing who you work with based on IQ or some other measurement (GMAT, LSAT, etc.) is probably a poor choice.  Obviously these things are important to a degree, otherwise we wouldn’t use them at all.  This has been running through my head a lot lately and I’ve been trying to sort it out.  Fortunately, someone smarter already has.  Malcolm Gladwell did a piece with ESPN that explained the concept succinctly.  He speaks about Charles Barkley and his significance in regard to his ability in the NBA.  Please take a moment to read it.  (BTW Gladwell has a new book out called Outliers which has instantly jettisoned to the top of my to do list.  The guy is sincerely brilliant.)

This particular example notes how Barkley was only 6’3″, short to play small/power forward in the league even in the mid 80’s when he was a rookie.  Many admonished his play would be subpar when up against “superior” athletes.  The rest is history.

Your intelligence quotient is important to a degree.  Your ability to write and speak effectively is important to a degree.  There are minimum levels of aptitude for explicit tasks associated with a particular work.  Where we fault is in thinking that bigger is always better.  When all we look at are things that are measurable, we are certain to miss the big picture.  The funny thing is that as we work with someone or spend time around people, we rely much more on the intangible measures of their output.  Their effort and attitude in regard to work ultimately shape our perspective of their value.  Yet some organizations are still relying archaically on only measurable factors of a candidate.  

The reason?  Time.  There isn’t time to test drive someone and their work for months for a lot of situations.  So we rely on quantifiable measures and judgement over the course of a few interviews.  We ask silly questions in hopes that the person will let us into their world long enough to see if our perspectives coincide.  This is why HR is so difficult.  People are unpredictable and understanding who they are in a short time frame is quite literally impossible.  Should I ever start a company, our hires will be based on effort and understanding.  You can teach someone the importance of integrating communication to create additional value; you can not teach work ethic.  The people who truly add value are those that exude effort and improvement every day, not necessarily the people who have the most intrinsic talent to start with.  

From Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.



  1. Hello,

    I don’t know where I am here, been surfing/searching all over ….

    I happen to have inherent talent that I want to use in a business and while I seem to be pretty good at brainstorming, I tend to become sidetracked (most of my life), wander off….. etc.

    Are you saying that starting a business in order to give oneself the opportunity to utilize and enjoy one’s inherent talent is not a good idea? I put Outliers on wishlist/amazon and am looking forward…but for now, would love your opinion.

    Thanks so much,

    Comment by susieland — October 19, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

  2. Susie,

    The point I was trying to make is that effort is more important than talent in most instances. Genius is so incredibly rare, building a business around it isn’t necessarily feasible as it’s contingent on a singular person.

    By all means, if you have the talent, use it! I’m just saying that an average IQ and wonderful ambition are more valuable than vice versa.

    Comment by Robert John Ed — October 19, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

  3. If only more than 28 people would read about this.

    Comment by Michele Schaffer — May 28, 2010 @ 10:48 am

  4. You have done it again! Amazing read.

    Comment by Pierre Ford — June 1, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

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