Talent - it's not important

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Talent: What can three chess-playing sisters teach us about

playing the drums?

One of the most important discoveries about learning is that people tend to split into two categories: those who think that learning is something that can take them to almost any level of performance, and those who think that they have to have 'talent'.

Those who think that it's almost entirely about learning tend to be very successful in life. They don't know how to do something? ...they go and learn it. If, say, they don't know how to play a musical instrument, they find out.

On the other hand, those who think that "you've either got it - or you haven't" are hardly likely to try. If they can't swim well, for example, they will say that this is because they haven't the ability. Not surprisingly, the second group tend not to be so successful.


What can we learn from three sisters?

Are there any facts to support the idea that we can learn almost anything - provided we work hard enough at it? Yes, indeed. Many years ago a University lecturer advertised that he wanted to have a partner with whom he could carry out an experiment; he was going to produce children who were world-class in... something. Incredibly, a lady agreed to do just this, and over the next few years the Polga children were born to this odd couple. All three girls were taught at home, with the emphasis on their learning chess - no one seems to know why their father chose this, but it is important to note that he was not a great chess player, and his wife was no player at all.

The children were taught intensely and very effectively. Amazingly, all three sisters ended up dominating the world of women's chess. They had been given some of the most thorough teaching imaginable, which started at an extremely early age. Their father had proved his point - he could decide before their birth what they were going to be exceptional in, and then, even though there was no family history of great performance, they proved to be some of the best players ever.

It seems clear the father could have taught them to be great engineers, musicians, physicists or anything else - all he had to do was give them the same sort of intense training in the appropriate subject.


Talent - does it even exist?

What does this tell us? We can either believe that we are destined to be good at some things (coincidentally the things we have spent a lot of time on!) and 'untalented' at others, or else we can use the mindset that the most successful people have and believe that within certain limits (it's no good trying to be a basketball star if you're 5 feet tall) you can learn anything if you do enough of the right sort of training.

So playing the drums - what can three chess champion sisters teach us about this? That we can learn almost anything; so if you want to play the drums... go ahead, with a few gallons of sweat you will probably be playing better than you could imagine!

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Alan Davidson: hypnoad@yahoo.com

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