Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Talent: practice, opportunity, interest?


Yesterday my granddaughter spent the day here and I decided she needed some new form of entertainment. We have read the same books hundreds of times (and will read them hundreds more I am sure) done the same puzzles, watched Sesame Street, dressed and undressed Judy the doll, over and over and over. I wasn't sure she would be interested or ready for something a little challenging, but on a hunch I got out a bag of wooden beads and stiffened the end of a piece of cotton string with tape and got her started stringing beads. She needed very little help or instruction. Perhaps she has done this before. I was interested in her concentration, the way she picked out all the red beads from the mixed assortment and her patience for the task.
I remember doing things like this as a child. Learning to use my hands for detailed work. I learned to embroider and weave potholders. I spent countless hours laying on my stomach on the livingroom floor drawing. I think it has so much to do with the things I do now and the relative degree of skill with which I am able to do them.
I recently read the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. A fascinating book that deals with patterns in the lives of people who are high achievers—they are not what you might expect. And I found support for things I have long suspected. Is talent something you are born with, or something you develop? Gladwell says,

"The question is this: is there such a thing as innate talent? The obvious answer is yes. Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role of preparation seems to play."

He goes on to talk about the 10,000 hour rule that says that you achieve mastery of something by practicing it for 10,000 hours. That includes a musical instrument, a sport, a thorough knowledge of a subject. Opportunity plays a big part, of course. He talks about how Bill Gates went to a school, as a child, that had a program in computer programming at a time when it was such a new subject that no other schools had such programs. And then there is interest. Not everyone who went to that school achieved what Bill Gates did. He developed an early interest, had the opportunity and put in the hours of practice necessary to master his subject.

While I have clearly not mastered my skills in drawing, for example, I draw better than most people. I credit those childhood hours of drawing, and classes and years of practice, not that it is something I was born knowing how to do.

It pleases me to see that Sofia, at the age of 2.5 has sufficient interest to work at stringing beads. I am happy to offer her the opportunity to do it. If she continues to practice she will develop hand skills that will be useful throughout her life. But the most important thing is that she had fun and was excited to show her Mom her beads and we didn't have to read Clifford the Big Red Dog yet one more time.

14 comments:

  1. Soon you'll be teaching her to crochet, and then to sew and knit. :-)

    Regardless of the hours put in, she's building an amount of proficiency that will serve her well in school and life. :-)

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  2. It's amazing how these early learnings stick around -- they surely do make later learning easier. But it's often in the casual learning, like Sofia's, that the greatest knowledge for later life will emerge. Focused learning, or "pushed" learning is less important early on than observed and "casual" learning (imho, of course).

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  3. Brenda8:11 PM

    I love the look of concentration on Sofia's face!

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  4. She looks older than 2.5 when concentrating like this. She's so cute. Look at her little hands. Lovely!

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  5. And not to forget: We learn from our parents and grandparents which kind of work they appreciate and what is obviously worth bothering and trying and have the patience to learn it. We get the affirmation from them to have done a good job. I guess this is very important for the way we use our future talents, too.

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  6. I also found Outliers interesting. I am currently reading "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin. His premise is along the same lines, and he brings into discussion Mozart and Tiger Woods and the fact that they had very willing and able teachers as young children (both cases it was their fathers). Sophie has a great start, and what fun!

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  7. I loved your thoughts on this. (And, of course, your granddaughter is adorable.) What I thought as I looked at the picture of her stringing beads was about "mastery" and that was echoed by your comments on Gladwell (a man with amazing insights, himself). Everything a person can master builds self-esteem and the courage to go on to other tasks. You're giving her the opportunity to succeed and to express herself. What a good grandma!

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  8. Beautiful picture of Sophia. She is off to an excellent start.

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  9. I love that you have her stringing beads. That seems like the perfect Grandma-inspired activity. I have the best memories of stringing buttons from my grandmother's button bag, for hours and hours. And how funny -- my dentist was just telling me about Outliers and the 10,000 hour thing yesterday. Sounds fascinating and reminds me that it's just DOING and DOING and DOING to get us going forward.
    Love Sofia's hair!

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  10. My 4 yo granddaughter did some bead stringing in pre-school...I asked her if she enjoyed it..."no, it was boring grandma" said she, as she turned back to the computer! She spends hours on the Nick Jr. website, so I think this may be her direction....maybe. Oh and her 15 month old sister....that child climbs in the chair and grabs the mouse like a pro!

    As for drawing, my mom [now 88] would agree with you. She spent her childhood drawing from the Sears catalog [showed off her corset drawing and embarrassed her parents.] But she went on to take art every year in school and went to an art college. She can still draw a cat that looks ready to stretch and meow.

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  11. I love your attitude!
    Now that it is the Holidays I have seen the little looms that we all(Our age) had that loomed potholders ...remember those? Greta to get to offer her sometime. Since so much retro is in style some o0f these old crafts are available around... try Vermont Country Store and Toy's R Us.

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  12. ^^^ I LOVED my loomed potholder!!

    I too enjoyed the Outliers book and the concept of 10,000 hours. I think that the 10,000 overlaps as well. I find that certain skills just translate well to other things. I crochet, so for me knitting was easy (tension, etc.), and I don't think 10,000 hrs is needed of each one to be proficient at both. Having played a number of sports, there are a lot of 'moves' that are the same, or close to the same. Doing lots of different things just makes picking up new things that much easier. Or perhaps that's my excuse for flitting about doing new stuff all the time. :)

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  13. I loved Outliers. It explained so much of what I had already observed (and not yet seen in some cases).

    I was about your granddaughter's age when I first learned all the things you could do with a needle and thread. Creativity definitely needs fertile ground and I say, the younger the better!

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  14. I'll have to look into that book, but you've done a wonderful job summarizing it! And it sounds like whatever your grandaughter's interests may be, she'll have the support to pursue them!

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