On: Talent (vs?) Hard Work

Published on 10/23/2017 23:24 PDT by Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra

Wtf is "Talent"?

To Start this discussion we must first agree on definitions, or at least establish a baseline. Normally, I like to Google whatever word(s) are being discussed and take it from there, this time around, the 'technical' definition and the 'informal' (but predominant) use of the word "Talent" don't seem too well aligned to me.

By Google's definition, talent is purely natural meaning caused by nature rather than humankind (A bit of an oxymoron in-itself imo, because you can argue Genes / DNA is ultimately information passed through to you from other humans), in any case the definition serves a purpose: to make and explore distinctions between what 'traits'/'edges' we acquire prior to versus what we acquire during and through directly/personally interacting with life, and that's fine.. Because that's a thing that needs a name.

HOWEVER, I think that colloquially, when we speak of "Talent" we are most often alluding to the pre-disposition a person has for learning or mastering a craft. As such we talk about a "talented futbol/soccer player" or a "Talented StarCraft player" but really, what makes "A talented X athlete/player" isn't one single trait but a combination of natural and learned, physical and mental sets of traits / "skills" - The sum of Nature and Nurture molding an individual to a given point in time, at which he or she is more (or less) pre-disposed than others to succeed at a given field.

When discussing "Talent" we don't usually go through someone's family tree or DNA samples to identify sets of natural traits that would conform this "pure" natural talent in a given area/field prior to life unfolding and their actions and surroundings directly influencing that person's mental and physical frames. "Long Legs" isn't something we talk about as it being a talent for example, while a "Talented Runner" (who benefits in this field from having long legs among-st many other factors to varying degrees) is something we're more likely to discuss or bring up.

NATURAL TALENT: Me vs Michael Phelps 

Since I was 1 and until I was 12 years old, my parents enrolled me in a swimming academy/club, I was good at it and swam competitively for a few years, I had good technique and more practice / work put in than most kids my age as I started early. My brother, of similar physical proportions as me, was a National Champion of swimming at a young age and traveled to international competitions on a regular basis. However, neither of us were naturally 'built' for swimming, not like some people appear to be.

Now, Michael Phelps.. that motherf*cker's made for swimming. Granted, he had to have worked hard to be the best and there is much to say about technique when it comes to swimming, but there are also seemingly blatant "Natural" advantages that someone like Michael Phelps has over someone like Me

Some perceived 'Natural' advantages when it comes to swimming are:

Height, preferably with a Long Wingspan relative to your own size; Longer Arms means longer levers to pull with, Bigger hands + feet to compliment make it easier to push more water and thus move quicker. Shorter Legs and Longer Torso are believed to be desirable also as the combination serves to decrease water resistance, perhaps un-intuitively, short legs in most swimming "styles" will grant you the advantage of faster kicks/repetitions to propel you forward.

Michael Phelps has all of these qualities on Lockdown, and these are just some of the easily observable physical traits.. I got the short legs, at least.

Me: 5'7 (170cm) + 5'9 (175cm) Wingspan, 8.5 (39 EU) shoe size
Michael Phelps: 6'4 (193cm) + 7'0 (213cm)  Wingspan, 14 (48.5 EU) shoe size

Now, for all of these traits there are both Genetic and Enviromental factors at play, so even though we are all a mesh of the two it's clear that some people are more likely to inherit an 'edge' or develop some of these traits to "greater" degrees increasing their chances to excel or climb 'faster' in a given field.

If I and Michael Phelps both had kids from twin sisters today, and on the day of their birth they were scheduled to be shipped to live and train swimming in the same facility, to share the same diet and routines for 15 years leading up to a 100 million dollar swimming race.. it's difficult to imagine my kid's chances would be too great or that anyone would bet on him. An inherited combination of clear physical traits which seem to mark considerable advantages in the discipline of swimming with the purpose of achieving speed / endurance in the water would most likely have the odds stacked up against my boy.

In this scenario, Michael Phelps' son will, almost every time, be more "talented" than mine at swimming.

Now please, follow me to an alternate universe where my kid is raised to be athletic while Phelps' kid winds up being a mostly-sedentary twitch.tv streamer and both are introduced to swimming at age 15 - It is entirely possible and perhaps even most likely that my kid would be far more primed to "learn" or become a "better" swimmer at a much faster rate than Phelps' kid, does that mean that in this universe my kid is "more talented" than Phelps'? Colloquially / commonly speaking - yes. Formally (by definition) - No.

As I mentioned earlier, this is commonly, how we use the term "Talent", as we tend to think of talent as an intangible quality that allows an individual to master a craft at a faster rate or to greater lengths than others. In reality it isn't one but many qualities and traits, natural or induced / learned (consciously and unconsciously) that compose said "Talent" for any given discipline.

In truth, it doesn't just take fast hand movement to excel StarCraft, it doesn't just take good reaction time or hand-eye coordination, it doesn't just take long fingers or great focus, doesn't just take good foresight and/or planning. There are SO many potential factors that would go into the equation that you can severely lack at many of them (in relation to your peers) and still manage to be good or even great. A "Talented" individual doesn't need to possess or develop every trait required to excel at a discipline, if you try to think of the complexity of a game like StarCraft it's likely impossible to master (or even to list) every skill/trait desired or necessary to succeed.

This is to me, part of the beauty of StarCraft 2, there isn't one formula or approach that is necessarily or inherently the best, many different approaches, skills and traits can be displayed by it's users and lead to success through different paths, it truly is much like a canvas ready to be painted, the technique, the brush and colors are yours to choose and yours to master.

Furthermore, which traits are thought to be desirable for any given discipline are subject to change as we explore the advantages and disadvantages of individual traits. In recent history, for example (and to avoid embarking on other tangents) there has been a resurgence of "short" swimmers at the highest level and while I mentioned some 'advantages' of having taller bodies and longer arms, energy expenditure has proven to be much lower for smaller people, meaning that while taller people are more likely to have more "power" they are also more likely to spend more energy and tire faster.


From the common use of the word, I would define "Talent" as the perceived positive 'balance' derived from the (subjective/abstract) sum of 'X#s' of traits (All of which are part nature, part nurture) that an individual possesses relative to their expected or proven success at a discipline at a given point in time.

"Natural Talent" (Formal meaning of talent) or a "Natural Edge" if you will - is very much a thing. But bare in mind that we as a race have arbitrarily decided what sports or games we like / play / invent, as such they have arbitrary sets of rules that are bound to benefit someone's biology over someone else's for the purpose of 'mastering' a given discipline. I would argue that, unless you're entering a competition for "largest ears" or some weird contest based on one or very few variables or easily observable traits - that hard work will pre-dispose you to develop skills desired to excel at most things, especially anything that you enjoy / are interested in.

From this perspective, I'd consider Hard-Work not only a 'Talent' but perhaps the greatest / most desirable 'Talent' in-itself.

CatZ 56
Neuro 729