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how much talent have you?

We hear a lot about it taking 10,000 hours to master a skill though I did have a bizarre conversation with someone (a photographer- always a bit touchy on such subjects as we all know there’s nothing to it but pressing a button…I jest) that it was really 15,000 hours. Hmm. Whatever- a long time, 10 years if you do ‘your thing’ 4 hours a day 250 days a year.

It can’t all be hard work though. There must be some place for talent in there.

Maybe we need less talent than we think though.

Paravicini, a noted autistic savant, and a professional pianist, achieved excellence by playing ‘as if his life depended on it’. Aged four he just banged a keyboard with his fists and  elbows- his teacher, who tutored him from this primitive state to concert standard, said of the boy's efforts: ‘to me it’s mainly hard work’.

In other words- talent is more about motivation than talent. Those with natural talent get more feedback than others and therefore have more incentive to practise. But autistic children are different- they have an innate motivational drive to practise as if it is a means to survival- so they become excellent too.

Stephen King wrote: “talent is as common as salt, talent is a blunt knife- it’s how much pressure you bear down with that is important.”

One feature of autistic children who acquire great skills be they linguistic, musical, mathematical or artistic is ‘an eye for detail’. It may be that if you can improve your ability to home in on details from time to time your overall talent will improve. Certainly if you focus greatly on a single line of a poem from time to time, your overall poetry writing ability will improve.

Entrepeneurs typically display the opposite tendency- an eye for the whole, the big picture, rather than focusing on detail. Many top people are not ‘detail freaks’- they want the wider context.

The main thing is: practise as if your life depends on it. The original impulse to learn is a survival instinct. You learn in order to survive better. Therefore if you can con yourself somehow that your very survival is at stake then you will learn very much faster. One way is to do it intensively, focusing to the exclusion of everything else.


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