The Origin of Talent

What do Mozart and Beethoven have in common? Across many centuries both classical music composers have been labeled as ‘talented’. Were they born with it or did they develop it?



Mozart’s father was a successful composer, violinist, and assistant concertmaster. His father introduced his older sister and himself to music at a young age. Mozart watched his sister play and mimicked her until he quickly began to show a strong understanding of chords, tonality, and tempo. Could we say Mozart inherited the dexterity to create sonorous musical notes from his father?



Beethoven studied the violin and clavier with his father. His father would beat him for each hesitation or mistake and he would weep while he played the clavier, standing atop a footstool to reach the keys. On a daily basis he was flogged, locked in the cellar and deprived of sleep for extra hours of practice. Could we say Beethoven became one of the most famous and influential of all composers because his father ensured he developed such exceptional talent?



In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tries to answer the age old debate of where talent comes from. He argues that innate talent will never become expertise without practice – lots of practice. He talks about the “primacy of talent” and how without the opportunity for intense, prolonged, and concentrated practice, no one can become exceptionally successful in a given field. The premise is that it takes around 10,000 hours of practicing a task to become successful at it.  That is to say, talent is not natural, it is developed.



Many antagonists of this theory believe talent is natural and one can only be exceptionally good at anything if they were born with that particular skillset. Take singing for instance – one could argue that it is a natural talent that is inherited. Take a Usain Bolt – one could argue that his ability to run faster than a cheetah is because he was born with the talent.



Infant-development experts believe that the first five to seven years of a child’s life are a prime time for learning. As such, a child will naturally develop traits based on the activities he is exposed to. At such a tender age, there is a blurred line between what the child was born with and what he picked up from the environment. Beethoven was probably as good as he was because of the deliberate efforts his father put in to ensure he was exceptional. Michelangelo’s father also towed that line. At an early age, his father set him on the path to becoming one of the greatest painters and sculptors to walk the earth. Ditto Mozart who was exposed to music as a little boy. This means most people who, at one time or the other, have been considered as great, put in deliberate effort to hone their talent and develop themselves to be exceptional.



It takes constant and deliberate practise, training and development to become good at what you do. Nobody wakes up one morning and realises they are an exceptional salesman or an incredible chef. The keywords are constant and deliberate. So whether you spend 10,000 hours working that skill or 21 days forming a habit to develop that skill, what counts is making deliberate efforts that are vigorous and determined.


Where does talent come from then?


Talent comes from deliberate efforts to be the best in a particular area that are vigorous and determined. Some examples are: becoming more tech savvy, understanding clients’ businesses better or keeping abreast with happenings in your industry.



You don’t need to be a genius to be exceptional. You just need to want to be exceptional enough to put in the time and effort to be such.


Written by Genevieve Craig