How Practice and Mentorship Creates Talent in Kids


  NPR Higher Ed profiled psychologist and researcher Anders Ericsson and his findings on “talented” or prodigious kids this week. The interview explored the themes in his new book, Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise, co-authored with Robert Pool. Ericsson explains how believing in innate talent can “...beget a tendency to assume that some people have a talent for something and others don't and that you can tell the difference early on. If you believe that, you encourage and support the 'talented' ones and discourage the rest, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy. ... The best way to avoid this is to recognize the potential in all of us — and work to find ways to develop it.”

The interview with Ericsson touches on how talent is encouraged (through endless hours of practice) rather than born naturally.

Ericsson states: The most optimal way to improve your performance is to find a teacher who has been teaching other people to reach the level of performance that you want to attain. This basically means that teacher will be able to tell you the most effective ways to improve. A good teacher will also be able to find suitable units of improvement, so you don't push yourself more than you can do. Where does this quote end? Just start out, 15 or 20 minutes [a day]. Especially if you have a mentor and, ideally, a teacher. That teacher will be able to help you set reasonable expectations.”

Ericsson argues that finding that mentor and diligently practicing with intentional work is more important in developing a skill than having any innate or obvious knack at it. He says, “In education, there is a lot of attention right now around student "grit" or resilience. When you look at prodigies, what is it that motivates these kids to work so hard and reach the levels that they do?” Ericsson says that often parents are putting pressure on kids, which he finds to be counterproductive, but that helping students get enjoyment from mastery and develop an ability on their own can be immensely useful in them keeping with it as an adult.

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Read the whole interview with Ericsson here.