I’VE JUST STARTED reading Matthew Syed’s Bounce: the myth of talent and the power of practice. Some time ago I read an article he had written on the subject, and been so fascinated that I had fished out my pink polka dot notepad and made a note of 1) his name and 2) the title of his book – Bounce itself, no less.
I’m still only on chapter one, because I keep pausing to think. Do you know the kind of book I mean? The sort where you tip your head, exhale, put it down on your lap with a thump while you stare into thin air.
Since I have not progressed even to chapter two, it seems a little odd to comment on it yet, but…
We live in a culture which glamorizes talent, recognises ‘natural’ gifting, praises those with such obvious potential. But with convincing and persuasive argument, backed up by examples and intriguing experiments, Syed suggests that talent is overrated. It is practice that makes us good at things. If someone seems to have a real ‘talent’ for something, it is likely that they have in fact simply been given more opportunity for practice – a headstart, a fast forward at a point in their lives which leads more opportunities, more headstarts, more practice.
This may initially feel discomfiting. As if our natural ‘talents’ are being dismissed. But you can look at it the other way. So often we dismiss our ability to achieve in certain areas, but Syed’s contention is that with enough practice, we can all excel at whatever that activity may be. If we think talent is what counts, we tend to give up earlier and more easily. We never give ourselves the chance to find out if we could be better – if we could get better. And even if we seem to have a natural ‘talent’ for something, we will never really excel unless we practise at it.
I’m not explaining it very well, but the book is fascinating and detailed in its proposal. My initial reading, so far, has made me consider the nature of potential, and how we often give up on ourselves. Syed says that
the tragedy is that most of us are still living with flawed assumptions: in particular we are labouring under the illusion that expertise is reserved for special people with special talents, inaccessible to the rest of us. – Matthew Syed, Bounce
But if you’re thinking it sounds like a self-help book, it isn’t – at least it doesn’t seem to be. It’s an observation on how we perceive ourselves and our abilities, and a challenge to that perception.
I will continue reading with interest…