On becoming better than "good enough"
Skill Versus Talent
Skill and talent while often used interchangeably are two different things.
Skill is the ability to do something well. It is honed or learned through practice.
Talent is a natural ability or aptitude for something.
Maybe the rate at which a talented individual may acquire a basic level of competence is faster than a moderately talented individual. But this doesn’t imply(1) that a talented individual may acquire expert-level performance or skills easily or without practice.
Acquisition of skill, most times, doesn’t mandate talent. An individual without talent for something could still acquire the skills for the same, given sufficient practice.
🎥FourZeroThree - YouTube
A quick shout out! Here's a “video version” of the article. If you are the visual type, I recommend watching the video. I bet you’ll enjoy it :)
Getting good - What matters
I started with a basic distinction between skill and talent to give you perspective. The general notion of talent giving an individual the edge in higher levels of competence would seem perceptibly invalid.
To get really good at something, what matters is
putting in the work for very long periods and
how you put in the work (deliberate practice)(2).
There are several skills that we acquire in our lifetime. In this article when I talk about skills, I refer to those that could give you an edge in an area of competence be it physical or mental.
Putting in the work for long periods of time
There is no getting around this. We are mediocre when we start. We reach expert-level capabilities only after we have stayed with it long enough. How much time are you willing to put into mastering something? But here’s the problem.
The result is where the enjoyment is. The obvious lack of reward in practice coupled with years worth of work makes the process tedious.
There could be a few ways around this.
One way around this is “interest”. Do something you have a modicum of interest in. The interest ensures your practice. Practice ensures you improve. Progress gives you happiness, which ensures you put in consistent repetitions. It keeps you in the loop of action, which would beget satisfaction further breeding action, and setting up momentum.
Do something that comes easily to you(3)
You are more likely to enjoy the things that come easily to you.
- “Atomic Habits” by James Clear
I came across this in Atomic Habits by James Clear. He has written about this on his website too (4). The idea is to cast a wide net and try different things, to find out what you could commit to doing in the long run. In other words, a skill you might want to spend years honing. Measure your progress and find out what comes easily to you. Double down on this. This way you could do something that comes relatively easier for you and set yourself up for success.
How you put in the work (Deliberate Practice)
The more you do something or the more you repeat something for a period of time, the lesser the impact it makes on you. This is called the “Repeated Bout Effect”(5). Hours of mindless practice are not going to help you improve beyond a point. After a point we reach a level of comfort, our actions become automatic and we plateau(6).
In more detail, they studied players who had all spent roughly the same amount of time—around 10,000 hours playing chess. Some of these players had become grandmasters while others remained at an intermediate level. Both groups had practiced the same amount of time, so the difference in their ability must depend on how they used these hours (7).
- “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport
Research has shown that Deliberate Practice(1) is key to developing expertise and becoming world-class in any field. When it comes to practice, “how you practice” helps determine growth. Unlike mindless practice, deliberate practice is about being self-aware and wanting to focus on improving a specific component of your skill.
Talent or Skill Stacking
This is an interesting take - “Talent Stacking” a concept coined by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert Comics. Talent stacking is kind of a workaround in today’s hyper-competitive world. You could develop a bunch of skills that you are very good at, stack them together, and aim to do something valuable. Hopefully maybe commercialize this unique combination of skills. The idea is to escape competition. You don’t have to be great at one thing. You could become unique by being very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
Ericsson, K. Anders, Ralf T. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer. “The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance.” Psychological review. 1993.