What is talent? It is frequently defined as genetic gifts leading to ease in developing high performance in a particular domain. Talented triathlete. Talented sales person. Do you buy it?
Remember my old DNA is not Definitive post? Recently, I was reading this article - The End of Nature Vs. Nurture- bemoaning the tiresomeness of the old nature vs nurture debate. It just doesn’t adequately explain what’s going on. Or, at least, what we now know about what’s going on, which is wildly incomplete. Says David Shenk, “…the basic idea… is that genes are not static; they are dynamic.” So he proposes new language to replace the outdated nature and nurture – Developmental Systems Theory.
So DNA doesn’t present a fixed blueprint of our talents and weaknesses. Perhaps a better metaphor is the interaction of terrain and weather. Genes provide something more like a landscape of hills, valleys, mountains, flatlands made up of rocks, mud, sand, clay, etc. that can be weathered innumerable ways by experiences. Talents arise from the right combination of landscape and weather patterns. Also, like genes and environment (however you might define it), weather and terrain are dynamic impact each other. Shenk continues:
What does all of this have to do with Einstein’s genius or your piano playing? Developmental systems theory tells us that, while genetic differences do matter, they cannot, on their own, determine what we become. From there, the whole idea of innate talent falls apart.
To this, Shenk follows up with this 10,000 hours to world class performance post, where the exceptional plasticity of the brain is highlighted. The neural networks in your head and body are changing right now as you read these words. They are changing when you learn new skills and when you further ingrain old ones. Old dogs, new tricks and all that. Use it or lose it. You know.
Now combine the suggestive landscape of temperaments and tendencies our DNA grant us with the understanding we have about the plasticity of our nervous system. What do you have? You have a fascinating system of complex interactions, rather than a roadmap of innate talents to leverage or not. As Shenk puts it:
A new understanding thus emerges: the limits we think we see in ourselves and our kids are really more like obstacles, difficult but not impossible to overcome. What appear to be innate/genetic brick walls are actually just very steep hills to climb. According to this view, the real marvel of genetics is how their dynamic properties allow us to expand and expand and expand our abilities — if we push hard enough and have the right resources. (These are big ifs.)
This is like what we find when conducting the Human Patterns psychometric instrument. This tool measures an individual’s developed preference to attend to XXX. If there’s a greater than average tendency to pay attention to or be motivated by XXX, then there is greater likelihood of doing XXX well. If there is a developed preference to NOT attend to XXX, then it can still be done, but with more work and more resources. As Stan Smith states in the Human Patterns FAQ:
CAN I CHANGE MY SCORES BY GETTING TRAINING, THERAPY, OR BY FORCE OF WILL?
Yes. When HUMAN PATTERNS® has been administered to an individual who has undergone psychotherapy or has chosen to work on a particular feature through training or changing a work context, scores do reflect change in one to four areas within a three year period. More than four changes within a three year period is rare. Most people change only one or two preferences within three years.
Which brings us to the question of who is really in the driver’s seat when attempting to mold and form talents. How much control can we exert over the human developmental system? It’s possible that the weather metaphor fits here as well. Seed a few rain clouds over here and we unintentionally create a desert over there. Or maybe not…maybe we create a more lush environment all around than we had before we interfered through the magic of synergy. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s worth the effort to explore areas we feel drawn to or areas where our personal developmental system conspired to lend us a “talent.” Isn’t that what living life is all about?