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3 by-products of your teenager pursuing talent NOW

isolated ocean of knowledge

 

Have you ever found that a review of a favorite book really does a good job bringing it home?

Here is an excerpt from a book reviewer on Amazon commenting on the book “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin

“The benefits of deliberate practice are that we perceive more, know more, and remember more in a specific domain of knowledge that we have chosen. This makes us more aware of our uniqueness as well as the uniqueness in others. The [Talent is Overrated] book suggests that over time we develop mental models of how our domain functions as a system.

As a result, we connect with every day events not as an isolated bit of data but as part of a large and comprehensive picture.”

I agree with this reader’s comment. The earlier your teenage son or daughter can find a way to focus around a long term talent, the more amazingly easy it is for him to succeed at what he wants to do.

This is because he is not learning one hour here in this subject and one hour over there in that subject. In a person without a specific talent focus, those are two disconnected work hours of his life spent learning various factoids pulled from two different domains of knowledge, but having little-to-no benefit of bringing added-value to each domain.

However, in a talent-focused child, those two hours are more than just two sequential hours of work. The two domains of knowledge augment each other’s value. This is because a big vision for the purpose of one’s daily work triggers an integration between normally separate domains of knowledge and skills.

This is the ideal: each new hour of learning in one domain is an hour that can be counted on to augment the value in another domain. It is a type of compounding effect.

Example: a 15 year old young man has a passion for flying and has easy access to training hours because of a good pilot friend of the family.

He discovers through the chatter from other pilots that there is growing demand for paid flight instructors on American soil to teach the future pilots from China and Japan (true story!). He hears that this new and growing demand is coming from the commercial airlines in those countries who prefer to have their people trained here. The English language and culture for communicating between pilots is the preferred common ground. This is creating opportunities for young pilots to start early careers.

This causes him to drop his Latin language course and decide to instead do daily language Skype exchanges with other young men from mainland China and Tokyo. This triggers an interest to dive deep into the WWII history of Asia (thus tying in another subject area).

As his pilot training increases, he then realizes that his love for the science of aeronautics is growing. This causes him to sign up for a special online course that will help him take a college level examination course in aeronautics.

I will stop at this point in the example, as I think you have now gotten the point.

Here is three by-products of pursuing talent on your young person’s mental health:

  1. He will no longer experience that feeling of anxiety about all the things he does not know.
  2. He will no longer feel isolated in an ocean of knowledge
  3. But he will feel himself a conqueror on the verge of contributing something unique in his generation.

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IQ Matters Only in the Classroom

 

English: Classroom in SIM University.

Having high IQ in the classroom predicts little about how talented your child will be in adult life. Something else predicts his success. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Quote by Geoffrey Colvin in chapter 3 of his book “Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else“:

The toll it was taking on him was large. “All right, all right, all right,” he muttered after Ericsson read him the list. “All right! All right. Oh . . . geez!” He clapped his hands loudly three times, then grew quiet and seemed to focus further. “Okay. Okay. . . . Four-thirteen-point-one!” he yelled. He was breathing heavily. “Seventy-seven eighty-four!” He was nearly screaming. “Oh six oh three!” Now he was screaming. “Four-nine-four, eight-seven-oh!” Pause. “Nine-forty-six!” Screeching now. Only one digit left. But it isn’t there. “Nine-forty-six-point . . . Oh, nine-forty-six-point . . .” He was screaming and sounding desperate. Finally, hoarse and strangled: “TWO!”

Above is an excerpt from a humorous section of the book on talent. Geoffrey Colvin relays the true story of a young man of average intelligence who was the first to break the human barrier of being able to memorize more than 7 given random digits. What was astonishing about this story is that within a short time of crossing the previous limit of about 7 data points (maybe 9 points at the outer limits), this young college student quickly increased his ability to such a point that he could memorize hundreds of digits at a time, randomly read to him. It was thought impossible for humans to do that. Not only that, once they had understood how he was memorizing differently, the researchers were then able to transfer this new ability to other college students who were just as average as the one first who creatively found a different way of memorizing. The point is this: ground breaking advancements in human abilities does not depend on high-IQ. This example of getting humans to go to the next level with regards to memory also showed that having or not-having a high IQ had little to do with finding the way to the next level of performance.

Emphasized in Geoffrey Colvin’s narration in this chapter is that this student was of average IQ level. This new ability to memorize did not come about because the individual had a high IQ. He explained that previous studies had confirmed that a high IQ only predicted that an individual would be able to do very well in classroom assigned work…but it ONLY predicted he would do well in the context of a classroom. It did not predict any special outcome in abilities or performance outside of the strict limits of the classroom. In short, high IQ’s had NO predictive power to single out who was actually going to be able to do well in a particular field of human talent.

There was one small acknowledged advantage outside of the classroom for those with high IQ: if you had a high IQ it did seem to predict that you would perform better than others at the beginning stages of a newly introduced skill. But that early stage advantage disappeared quickly if the average IQ individuals stayed focused on learning the new skills beyond the early stages of learning. After the initial stages, other factors that contribute to success completely take over and drown out any differences in IQ levels (note: that is, as long as the person wasn’t significantly below average intelligence or had a clear impediment).

So why is there is no correlation between amazing talent and high IQ? Because IQ measures only a certain type of intelligence, a type of classroom cleverness if-you-will, but outside of the classroom, any specific real-life talent only uses a very small proportion of that type of intelligence in order for it to be effective in the real world. It turns out that other skills and types of intelligences merging together in the right combination and proportions is much more important than having just a high-IQ. This would mean that unless you intend for your child to become a professional test taker, you should not rely on your child’s IQ levels to carry him to the high levels of success to be found outside of his formal schooling days.

Conclusion: a high IQ can help you on the classroom portions of formal learning, but you can not depend on it for success outside of the classroom. Both high and average IQ individuals had the same advantage as regards to extraordinary potential for talent achievement.

(updated 1/17/2015)

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Mentors and Parents

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Finding a mentor who is both good at his craft and good at being able to share with a younger person can be a difficult match (photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Quote by Geoffrey Colvin in chapter 5 of his book “Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else“:

“in sports generally, seeing the results of practice is no problem…Difficulties arise when the results require interpretation. You may believe you played that bar of the Brahms Violin Concerto perfectly, but can you really trust your own judgment? Or you may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts. These are situations in which a teacher, coach, or mentor is vital for providing crucial feedback”.

Geoffrey Colvin explains that mentors often play a big role in many of the very talented people. I agree. But actually finding a mentor for your minor child can be a difficult task for you as a parent to accomplish in getting your child to grow in his 10,000 hours of talent. Thankfully not every field of talent needs a traditional mentor, at least not at every point in the process on the path to becoming super-talented. Nonetheless, if you can enlist the help of some type of a mentor for your child, it makes the journey a lot easier.

Here are the two common difficulties when trying to find a suitable mentor or coach for your child:

  • Difficulty #1: finding an expert who has experiences that could actually benefit your child, but who is not willing or capable of sharing with a younger person
  • Difficulty #2: finding an expert who is actually willing to share and has great experiences in the particular talent field, but whose personal life is so out of control that it could inadvertently harm your child

The workaround to difficulty number one can often be found by going online to specialized forums where experts give advice to each other about their talent. They are often willing to dispense kind tips to beginners who are showing themselves serious.

The workaround to difficulty number two can often be found by breaking down the skills into still further sub-skills and then to go find new and different mentors that match up to those sub-skills.

The younger the child, the more you may want to consider the strategy of enlisting the help of multiple mini-coaches or mini-mentors. The older the child, the more your child will be able to sell himself to a skeptical mentor by the evidence of the work he would have already accumulated. The older the child, the more he will also be able to separate a person’s great expertise in one area from any of the mentor’s personal ethical problems that are outside his craft.

Whatever the relationship with mentors, always stay in charge. Do not let yourself be substituted as the parent when giving the ethical direction to your child’s life. A beloved coach or mentor should be respected for the value he adds to your child’s life, but the mentor should not be expected to carry the burden and responsibility of being a substitute parent.

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Cranking Out What We Already Know How to Do

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Quote by Geoffrey Colvin in chapter 5 of his book “Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else“:

…work, like deliberate practice, is often mentally demanding and tiring. But that’s typically not because of the intense focus and concentration involved. Rather, it’s more often a result of long hours cranking out what we already know how to do. And if we’re exhausted from that, the prospect of spending additional hours on genuine deliberate practice activities seems too miserable to contemplate.

Geoffrey Colvin goes into detail as why working as an employee for someone is not a substitute to having a personal plan to develop your talent. Hard repetitious work can be confused for skill development because both can drain you emotionally and physically. You are normally hired to do something you are already capable to do task wise. You just need a few pointers to get started and then after that, your employer’s goal, is to get you to be as productive as possible by doing the same thing over and over.

By definition, if you are repeating what you already know what to do very well, then you are not growing in your talent. This means that if a young adult does not have a plan for deliberately pushing the boundaries of what he does and knows outside of what he is hired to do, he will often get stuck for years on end at the same level of performance. This is why I recommend regular conversations with your child on how get himself to the next level of his performance. One way to do that is by getting him comfortable with looking at and owning the big picture of where his talent can take him through the use of a mind map.

The Ten Year Rule Applies

 

Bobby Fischer at the age of 17 playing world c...

Bobby Fischer at the age of 17 playing world champion Mikhail Tal – it took him ten years of training to get himself to the top. He was able to start very young. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Quote by Geoffrey Colvin in chapter 4 of his book “Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else“:

Even Bobby Fischer was not an exception; when he became a grand master at age sixteen, he had been studying chess intensively for nine years. Subsequent research in a wide range of fields has substantiated the ten-year rule everywhere the researchers have looked. In math, science, musical composition, swimming, X-ray diagnosis, tennis, literature—no one, not even the most “talented” performers, became great without at least ten years of very hard preparation. If talent means that success is easy or rapid, as most people seem to believe, then something is obviously wrong with a talent-based explanation of high achievement.

Geoffrey Colvin reports that if one is going to take seriously the desire to become good at something than you must embrace the expectation that it is going to take at least ten years to outdo and reach above the current generation of your peers. No exception. Except I will add here an exception to that rule, without actually invalidating the Ten Year Rule (also known as the 10,000 hour rule). If your child chooses to engage himself in a talent that is in a new field of human activity or in a new cross-over of skills that did not exist before, than I believe your child will not have to train ten years to get to the top.

In a crowded talent field where there are tens of thousands of accomplished practitioners, such as in the violin world, your child will have a very arduous journey ahead in order to be heard over and above all the other great performers. However if you think of a talent field that is new and combined with a way to serve the needs of people, then maybe five thousand judicious hours, instead of 10,000 hours, will allow your child to become one of the best in his field. This is why I recommend parents help their children find opportunities in interesting talent cross-over fields where the supply is not yet over-abundant.

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Spend More Time with the Component Skills of Child’s Talent

Jerry Rice signing autographs in 2006.

Jerry Rice signing autographs in 2006.He was one of the most famous football players of all time, yet his 10,0000 hours of practice time involved little actual football practice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Quote by Geoffrey Colvin in chapter 4 of his book “Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else“:

That’s about 1,000 hours a year, or 20,000 hours over his pro career. He [Jerry Rice] played 303 career NFL games—the most ever by a wide receiver—and if we assume the offense had the ball half the time on average, that’s about 150 hours of playing time as measured by the game clock; this may be overstated, since Rice wasn’t on the field for every play. The conclusion we reach is that one of the greatest-ever football players devoted less than 1 percent of his football-related work to playing games.

Geoffrey Colvin gives the example of Jerry Rice’s well-documented training regimen as an example of how practicing and training to be one of the best in your talent field does not mean performing the publicly recognizable part of it every hour of your practice time. What this example shows is that top people will break down the component skills of what they need in and then focus on improving those component skills.

In the case of Jerry Rice this meant practicing separate skills like sprinting and weightlifting even though they weren’t visibly and directly related to holding a football. But he knew that by isolating certain skills, it would make a huge difference to his final talent. See if you can apply this to your child’s situation. Take a look at his or her current practice regimen: can you pull back on some of the outward visible performance part of his or her talent and instead use that time to develop more thoroughly a key component skill?

 

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Mozart Trained for 18 Years for his First Amazing Score

 

Family portrait: Maria Anna ("Nannerl&quo...

Mozart started his training at age 3: Family portrait: Maria Anna (“Nannerl”) Mozart, her brother Wolfgang, their mother Anna Maria (medallion) and father, Leopold Mozart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Quote by Geoffrey Colvin in chapter 2 of his book “Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else“:

“Mozart’s father was of course Leopold Mozart, a famous composer and performer in his own right. He was also a domineering parent who started his son on a program of intensive training in composition and performing at age three…Wolfgang’s first four piano concertos, composed when he was eleven, actually contain no original music by him…Mozart’s first work regarded today as a masterpiece, with its status confirmed by the number of recordings available, is his Piano Concerto No. 9, composed when he was twenty-one. That’s certainly an early age, but we must remember that by then Wolfgang had been through eighteen years of extremely hard, expert training. This is worth pausing to consider. Any divine spark that Mozart may have possessed did not enable him to produce world-class work quickly or easily”

In case after case, Geoffrey Colvin goes on to explain that the famous people who are known worldwide for their amazing skills had to work very hard at being that good. Their work regimen contradicts the popular notion that such people are born talented. It is also true that they usually started very young and were strongly guided by their parents hopes and plans. It is their parents oversight that allowed them to focus with such intensity without too many distractions from the normal school routines that other school children would have to follow. This is good news because it implies that parents can deliberately copy the parental pattern of encouraging talent in their own child, starting in their home. That difference in time between starting at age 12 and age 22 can be a good ten years of talent creation. Your child could easily fit his 10,000 hours of deliberate practice by the time other adult children are just beginning to look for a productive output.

 

 

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Better Than Before

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Quote by Geoffrey Colvin in chapter 1 of his book “Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else“:

“When Tchaikovsky finished writing his Violin Concerto in 1878, he asked the famous Leopold Auer to give the premier performance. Auer studied the score and said no – he thought the work was unplayable. Today every young violinist graduating from Juilliard can play it. The music is the same, the violins are the same, and human beings haven’t changed. But people have learned how to perform much, much better.”

Geoffrey Colvin reports that in most areas of human performance, when people apply themselves with deliberate practice, they easily outperform, even at a young age, the masters of just a couple a generations ago. This is because no one is born a violinist, or a doctor, or an accomplished science-fiction writer, but rather they are taught specific skills and train themselves deliberately over many years with the latest techniques in skill development. This increased achievement is widespread across all human endeavor and reminds us that GREATNESS can indeed be achieved in your child – that is IF you stop letting yourself be misled by the idea that greatness is simply “discovered” wholly-formed in your child. Rather greatness in a talent is developed through hard planning, hard work, and with a lots of support by the parents during the early years.

They Will Be Just Fine (and no more than that)

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Quote by Geoffrey Colvin in chapter 1 of his book “Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else“:

“We tell our kids that if they just word, they’ll be fine. It turns out that this is exactly right. They’ll be fine , just like all those other people who work at something for most of their lives and get along perfectly acceptably but never become particularly good at it”

Geoffrey Colvin goes on to report that the research he looked at shows that the number of years of hard work spent in a particular field of human activity has NO relationship to the level of excellence by individuals in many, many different fields, including for example medicine and law enforcement. It seems that straight-forward experience is a very poor predictor of outstanding ability. And it seems that any innate talent that one may have at birth has very little predicting power as to how good one will be in adult life.

So what does Geoffrey Colvin say will far outdo any gifting at birth and outdo just years of hard work?

Answer: DELIBERATE PRACTICE!