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GET REAL: Talent no simple thing


ADRIAN GREEN

GET REAL: Talent no simple thing

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THERE IS AN internet meme going around. It say’s: “Ten things that require zero talent”. The ten things are: being on time, work ethic, effort, body language, energy, attitude, passion, being coachable, doing extra and being prepared. It sounds reasonable enough. It is not. It is misguided and dangerous.

In all fairness, all internet memes are dangerous. Anytime you try to boil the truth down to a simple slogan you lose important nutrients. In the process of refining the expression of the truth, for the sake of convenience, and ease of assimilation, you can end up with a product that while easier to chew, is less nutritious and has greater potential for misuse.

Sucking sugar cane gives you more nutrients than using brown sugar, which gives you more than white sugar. At each stage of refinement, vitamins and/or minerals are lost. Taking a complex idea and simplifying it can have the same effect. You end up with a statement that dissolves easily in people’s minds but may eat away at their mental health.

It can’t be helped sometimes. Some people don’t have the teeth or jaw strength to suck cane. You have to grind it for them. Some people have a prejudice against brown sugar. They prefer the taste of white. Or sometimes people just need a quick meal or energy boost. Imagine offering a triathlete a stalk of sugar cane instead of an energy drink during a race. If you want to feed someone you may have to give them what they can take. 

Wherever possible, take sugar cane over refined sugar, whole grain over processed cereal, fruit over fruit drink, and a carefully thought-out, nuanced reasoning over a soundbite, or tweet.

Back to the ten things that require zero talent. I get what the meme is trying to say, but it is sugary talk. Let’s reintroduce some fibre. These are things that most mentally stable adults should be able to master without having any above average inborn traits. Mastering them will contribute to success in any endeavour. True. But these ten things, while not requiring any above average ability to develop, must be developed and developing some of them can be complicated. 

No one is born with a talent. Doubt me? Show me a newborn with a talent for anything but crying and sleeping. Any talent that child will later show, it had to work on. Even talent takes hard work and an environment that allows it to grow. 

Baby Usain Bolt had to struggle to walk just like the rest of us. What he possessed were special traits that gave him special potential which could be used to develop walking into a special talent for sprinting. Without effort in training and a track and field culture like Jamaica’s, he would just be a guy from an island who could run kinda fast.

We think of walking as something simple and basic. You could say it requires zero talent. Human walking is such a complicated activity that there is yet to be a machine created that can come close to matching it. If you prevent a baby from walking for long enough, it becomes extremely difficult to learn the skill. 

You might have been able to walk since two. Do you feel qualified to teach someone how to walk? Imagine, through groundbreaking surgery, someone who has been in a wheelchair for 40 years, from the age of two, has now regained use of their legs. Could they come to you, talented walker, to instruct them how to do it? Physical therapists go through years of study to do just that.

What about someone who has been in the habit of being late all their life? Their parents were habitually late, as well as their uncles, aunts and siblings. They grew up in a culture where being late was accepted. After 40 years of this practice, will it take some effort to change? Just because it does not require talent, it does not mean it will be easy. What about someone who has been in a long time state of depression or low self-esteem? It shows in their body language. Will they be expected to walk like a champion overnight? 

These ten things that require zero talent: punctuality, work ethic, effort, body language, energy, attitude, passion, being coachable, doing extra and being prepared, while seemingly simple and basic like walking, are not inborn traits. Babies are not born being punctual or with any of the others. They are, like talents, things you learn, develop and train. You have to have an environment that supports them and allows them to blossom. They become harder to develop if they are not part of your early childhood culture or worse, your culture teaches the opposite. In a culture like that you have to develop formalised ways of training these types of habits.

Looking at these habits as talentless, simple and easy to practice is dangerous because we start to look at other people, maybe even ourselves, as defective or bad instead of badly trained, if we or they fail at them. Then we start to think maybe this person is untrainable, when it may really be that we don’t realise the need or have the skill to train them.

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email: [email protected]

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