This blog has gained many new readers over the past year. Because of that, I thought it might be worth sharing a daily “A Look Back” where I share a best post from the past twelve years. You can also see all of my choices for “Best” posts here.
This post originally appeared in 2016:
An article in last week’s New Yorker, Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, is the latest salvo in attempts to debunk the popularized mythology that people can become experts in any field through practice. Of course, as I’ve previously written several times, these attacks are on “straw men” since few people actually take that position. In fact, deliberate practice is not the major factor in developing expertise, but it is the most important element in developing expertise that is within a person’s individual control. (see Deliberate Practice & Red Herrings and Deliberate Practice, The Olympics & Red Herrings).
But all these recent studies pitting genetic talent versus practice are missing a huge elephant in the room — “natural” talent isn’t really that “natural.”
Plenty of research has shown that a person’s environment plays a massive role in determining if that natural genetic talent actually develops. For example, a child living in poverty is less likely to have their genetic benefits realized than a middle-class child with less stress and better nutrition. You can read about these studies at my previous posts:
So, instead of beating up on the position that few people are taking that practice is more important than talent, I wish these researchers would put their energies into supporting getting our students’ natural talent maximized through social and political policy changes.
Why dump on a proven practice (deliberate practice) that has been shown to be an effective individual improvement strategy, and then contrast it with the inaccurate image that you have talent or you don’t?
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