Four keys to undestand where the talent comes from

Four keys to undestand where the talent comes from

Guest Author 25 septiembre 2015 Comments

Written by Rocío Gómez Botero 

Recently, it has been reopened the debate about whether the outstanding talent is a fixed and inborn characteristic of an individual, or if it can be developed throughout life with the support of education systems. Let’s take a look at some tips to resolve this question.


Rule of 10.000 hours

In 1993 a study was published by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, where he found that the difference between musicians with different levels of performance lays in the number of hours they had of deliberate practice. The group with the highest performance had accumulated an average of 10,000 hours of practice versus the half of the musicians observed. Thus, the study concluded that a long-term effort, not innate talent, was explaining the differences between an expert and a beginner. From this study came up the famous “10,000-hour-rule” of Malcolm Gladwell.

Myelin is passion and persistence

In this sense, the New York Times journalist Daniel Coyle, spent years exploring talent in different sports and artistic fields, and found that the common element between artists and athletes with high levels of performance was the number of additional layers of myelin they had compared to their peers with lower performance. Myelin is the coating that surrounds the nerve endings of neurons where nerve impulses are transmitted allowing synaptic connections. According to Coyle’s investigation, these layers are built with much time and effort from hours of deep and conscious practice dedicated to an specific field. Therefore, the second element for increasing the myelin is passion. The construction of the myelin layers requires a lot of energy and persistence. No one will dedicate long hours of effort to do something they do not deeply love. In this sense, Coyle concluded that anyone can achieve exceptional performance if they have a mixture of passion for their field and deep practice. This conclusion corroborates the Gladwell theory.

Genes matter

Despite this, two recent studies – presented in Slate by Hambrick, Ferreira and Henderson – found that deliberate or deep practice is very important but, is not the main factor to develop an exceptional talent. One of this studies found that a chess player might need 22 times more deliberate practice than another to achieve the same level of expertise. While another study showed that although more hours of deliberate practice ended up in better results, this additional number of hours only explained about 20% of the difference in fields such as music, chess and sports. Overall, deliberate practice is not a guarantee to become an expert, because there are other factors that also innfluence, like the age when practice begins and genes.

And..  also the enviroment

Furthermore, Jairo Giraldo a Colombian physicist expert in talent and nano-neuroscience, explains how the environment and the brain wiring play an important role besides practice and genes. The cultural environment is very important for a talent to flourish or to extinguish. Giraldo confirms that Einstein himself “…could not have gotten where he got without a supportive family, school and social environment”.  On the other hand, the brain wiring is also essential to explain the differences of performance among people. There are some brain wiring that is more efficient than others in a particular field. While for one person it can be very easy to solve mysteries of molecular biology, maybe their level of proficiency to score a goal is almost nil. The type of wiring contrast our talents and enable us to achieve outstanding levels in our field or intelligence. Therefore, although the myelin is very important, you can not think that having good coating is enough: synaptic connections remain fundamental.

In conclusion, genes, brain wiring, environment, practice and passion are vital to enhancing talents in schools. Now, public policy is facing a major challenge: the need for a more relevant education for different types of intelligence, with more time to practice deeply the talent of each child, rather than a standardized curriculum that is not relevant for them and the needs of their environment and communities. (Read Disconnected, IDB publication)

And you?…  Do you know any initiatives to enhance the talent of children in the education system?


Rocio Gomez Botero has worked in the fields of education and early childhood development for 13 years. For more than five years, she was the director of Alliances of aeioTU – Carulla Foundation. Previously, she worked on the design and implementation of public policy on early childhood in Colombia and in the assembly of a sustainable framework for the Network of Public Libraries of Bogota. Rocio has a master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning for Developing Countries at the London School of Economics. Recently, she has worked on issues of talent and socio-emotional development. 

    One thought on “Four keys to undestand where the talent comes from

    1. Steve Padgett

      Great article ! Being a golfer I want to add that “deliberate practice” is an important concept that requires further development. Without a coach, you may be ingraining bad habits.

      Also there is a correlation between innate ability and practice, if you are good at something, you may practice more because the practice will be more rewarding because of the innate ability. This idea was addressed in the article but it might be developed further.

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