People believe either one of two things about intelligence and talent – either they are fixed traits – “it’s just the way someone is” – “God or genetics blessed or cursed them” – or they are something that is malleable and can be developed over time – with play, practice, and effort.
Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychologist, has been studying these beliefs and their effects for a major part of her career. She’s the author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” and her work has influenced that of David Shenk, Malcolm Gladwell and others.
To determine your mindset, when you look at someone who has accomplished something, do you immediately attribute it entirely to something innate like talent, or do you admire the work and play (CNN Money) they put into it to make it happen?
Where you stand determines much. It effects everything from dealing with grades (NPR) to our children’s drive to try and try again (New York Magazine) to our capability to face our weaknesses head on with honesty (Malcolm Gladwell: “The Talent Myth”) or to deny we have any fiat over them.
Don’t think that those with high self esteem or low self esteem automatically fall into one mindset or the other. It’s not that simple (New York Magazine) or intuitive. Far from it (ScienceBlogs: Jonah Lehrer: Self-Esteem). .
I’m preaching to the choir in regards to many who read this blog, in particular musicians or programmers. We *exist* within a culture of learning and trumpet hard work to each other.
Observers of musicians or programmers however, routinely attribute what we do to innate ‘talent’ or ‘intelligence’ – when we know otherwise.
I’ve long had the following Calvin Coolidge quote on a page here:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan press on has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
And lately, with the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 program’s success, I reflected a bit on it.
It was Apollo 11. Not Apollo 1, that made it to the Moon. Not to dismiss the intelligence and resources of those assembled to make it happen, but Apollo 11 rested on the shoulders of at least 10 iterations of the Apollo program and the prior NASA program as a whole. Along the way there were lessons learned *while doing*. *While practicing*. While experimenting. These lessons did not come whole cloth out of the minds of those involved. In fact there was great tragedy and sacrifice along the way. Lives were lost.
Starting points do count of course. Context does count. The resources behind NASA were those of the country. The politics at the time were favorable. We can go on and on about that. And like persistence and grit, they are factors that get swept under the rug in a culture that likes to emphasize ‘great people’. But that’s a post for another day.
We were left inspired. And sometimes I think we fail to grasp what we should have been inspired of.
After all, for sure we can’t really control the cards we are dealt – but we can how we play them.