Talent Vs Effort: What's More Important?
I listen to a lot of audiobooks when I am out running. I think it’s a great way to multitask, and absorb new information and insights while I exercise. I love how productive it is. A couple weeks ago, I gave a listen to Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. It was an amazing book and I’m hoping to summarise it in this blog for you.
Dr. Angela Duckworth is a psychologist and the Founder & CEO of “Character Lab.” In her book Grit, Dr. Duckworth explains how she decided to interview successful people from all walks of life; from navy seals to national spelling bee champions to professional athletes to successful entrepreneurs. The answer she was looking for was simple; what does it take to be successful? Within any profession, why are some people more successful than others? What quality decides success; is it talent, is it effort or is it a combination of the two?
Talent Counts Once, Effort Counts Twice
After much research and data collection, she came up with two formulas that went something like this:
Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement
Here, “talent counts once, but effort counts twice”. Let me quickly explain what this equation means.
In any profession, there is going to be a baseline talent and x amount of effort we put in to get to that point. But if you want to achieve a higher status in your line of work, you need to put in more effort to get beyond this baseline.
For example, dentists who have gone through dental school, cleared their licensing exams and are practicing clinicians, have some existing baseline talent. They have put in effort to acquire a skill set as a dentist. But now that they are dentists, how much effort are they going to put into their profession to develop and become better dentists? It’s the second equation Skill x Effort = Achievement, that determines the standard curve of clinicians at the top, middle and bottom of the dental profession. “Effort counts twice,” which implies that having a skill is not enough. You need to consistently put in efforts long-term, to accomplish bigger goals in life. Dr. Duckworth calls this quality “grit,” and says that grit is the biggest indicator of success in any line of work.
So how do you develop grit? Dr. Duckworth outlines 4 steps you can follow to develop a grittier attitude:
Being fascinated or naturally interested in something you want to do, will definitely make it easier for you to persevere long-term to achieve it. When we are passionate or deeply interested in things, the efforts we apply to accomplish them seem almost miniscule. For example, I am somebody who’s really interested in Basketball. It’s very easy for me to spend time listening to basketball podcasts, watch basketball games, or reading about basketball stats. I don’t have to consciously put in any effort because it genuinely excites me. Similarly, work on developing fascination or genuine interest in certain specialties or areas within dentistry, and you will find it much easier to put in the required efforts to learn and grow as a dentist.
Aim for daily improvements
If you want to get better at something, then the only person you need to compete with is yourself. Look at what you were doing yesterday, a week ago, a month ago. Evaluate if you’re actually improving or moving forward. Be it in terms of your patient re-booking rates, the quality of your occlusal anatomy in composite restorations, or even your tissue handling skills during surgical procedures; compete with your previous self to get incrementally better everyday. Document all your clinical cases with detailed notes and photographs. As you look back at your work over time, it will become obvious how much you’ve improved. The small incremental improvements may not seem like much on a day to day basis, but they do accumulate over time, and you will see benefits long term, for sure.
Develop a greater purpose
You need to develop a greater purpose for the work that you are doing. What does this mean? This is a little tricky because it requires a bit of reflection and abstract thinking but let’s just try to understand what this means. Dr. Duckworth cleverly uses the example of a bricklayer, building a church, to explain this concept. A bricklayer can either put up a wall, thinking it’s a part of his job, or he can put up a wall, thinking that he’s building a church for people to come and pray. In the second instance, his work has a higher purpose i.e. he’s doing it in the service of God. Hence, he is likely to be more motivated or devoted to his work in the second case.
The lesson here is clear; take a step back and look at the bigger picture first, before you do anything. Discover your higher purpose, if you can. It will really boost your efforts and help you push boundaries to get to wherever you want much faster.
Have a growth mindset
A growth mindset is a belief that consistent efforts and practice do lead to improvement. You are not set in stone. Your abilities are not set in stone. You can always change who you are and what you do. This applies to everything in life, not just grit. It’s something that I encourage everybody to have because if you don’t have a growth mindset, and you don’t actually believe you can get better, then what’s the point of putting in any effort? A lot of people do have this sort of negative thinking, unfortunately, and that’s why a curve exists within any profession.
In conclusion, people looking to do great things in life need to:
- develop a fascination towards what they are doing,
- aim for daily improvements,
- find a greater purpose,
- and have a growth mindset.
As dentists who already have some baseline skill, it’s important you look inward and reflect on what it is you want to achieve. And to have an idea of what kind of success you want in life. If you want to grow and do a little bit better than everybody else, grit is the most important quality you need to develop (using the four steps I talked about in this blog).
If you’re somebody like me who’s always looking to gain new information and insights, then audiobooks are just the thing for you. So go and listen to Grit by Angela Duckworth. It’s a great book with loads of important life lessons for you.
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