I received an e-mail last week from my kids’ school on “smart kids,” also known as academically gifted, and I’ve been thinking about the concept every since.
The gist of the email was based on an article called, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids: the Inverse Power of Praise,” by Po Bronson (you can read it online here) which talks about a study done on academically gifted students.
After scoring well on a test, one group was told, “Wow. You’re so smart.” The other group was told, “Wow. You must have worked hard.” The results were a little surprising. The kids who were praised for working hard scored much higher down the road than those who were praised for being smart.
Why the difference?
Because the kids who were told they were smart got it in their heads that they were born smart and therefore things should come easily to them. If something started to become hard, many would quit and say, “I must not be good at that.” The risk of failure and not being “smart” enough was too great.
Whereas the other group which was praised for their hard work knew that regardless of the outcome, working hard was something they could control. They were willing to try new things and like I mentioned, ended up scoring 30% higher on academic tests down the road.
I know people are born with natural talent. Michael Jordan. Michael Crichton. Michelangelo. (Apparently I have a thing for Michaels today.) Michelle Kwan. (Ha, threw a girl in there). And yes, natural talent is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing. In fact, I’m starting to think it plays much less of a role than any of us realize.
Michael Jordan could have been born with the most genetically-engineered basketball genes in the history of mankind, but it wouldn’t have done him an ounce of good if he’d never hopped off his couch and shot some hoops. Day after day. Year after long year. Michelle Kwan used to wake up at 3am so she could practice before school. And the second school was over, she was back in that rink.
The Sistene Chapel didn’t paint itself.
I guess I keep hearing a lot of “I could never do that because…” from my kids, people I know, and even myself.
Like my oldest son who told me he could never play the piano like his younger sister because she was born with more musical ability. Yes, she is very musically inclined, however, she’s also spent ten times longer (without exaggeration) on that piano bench than he has. Why doesn’t that count for anything?
But I fall into this same trap. I look at people I consider talented or intelligent and think, “Man, I wish I could do that.” In spite of what I think, I can run a marathon. I’m just choosing not to.
So maybe we should stop focusing on how talented or smart people are and start focusing on how hard they work. At the same time, we should stop selling ourselves short.
No more, “I can’t _____________ because ______________.”
I no longer buy that theory.
Because really, the best stories, books, and movies in the world are based on people who ignore the “I can’t” adage and decide it can be done.
Never underestimate the power of a little blood, sweat, and tears.
What do you guys think? Talent vs. Hard Work?