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Effort Takes Zero Talent

Michael Clegg | 09/13/2019

Most of us have heard the statement before “effort take zero talent.  If you haven’t, you will today.  I experience this in my own personal life and certainly as a business professional.  There are different schools of thought on how to gain more effort out of the people in your life.  As a Leader, Coach and Business Owner, I would take an effort person over a talented one lacking effort every day of the week.  There are some simple things that we can all do to ensure we get the desired result of high effort. 

In business, I’ve made what I thought were perfect hires.  The candidates had high intellect, fantastic engagement and the type of personality that draws you towards.  I knew that I would make an offer within the first few minutes of meeting them face to face.  When you engage and spend time with someone like that it is easy to be drawn towards them.  However, after they were employed something changed.  They still had the engaging personality and high intellect, but something was missing. 

 Often, when you encounter someone that is supremely talented with personality, it brings a false sense of expectations.  What happens if that talented person gives limited effort?  Effort requires zero talent.  Effort is driven by character traits like how ambitious or outgoing someone is.  Now, I think one could argue that those traits relate to talent and I wouldn’t argue against it.  However, talent usually comes with some skillset that was developed over a period.  Some of the effort traits are inherited. Fast Company article 11-30-17 reported that researchers found 41% of variability in conscientiousness, main trait explaining individual differences in effort, is attributable to genetics.  Compared to 48% for intelligence or general learning ability.  Therefore, only 7% difference that talent is more heritable than effort.   

 One of the challenges is that parents are found to praise intelligence over effort.  I do find that when I reward my own kids for their efforts, they want to work harder and give me more effort.  When I praise their test scores over why they got that great grade (studying), I do not see the same level of enthusiasm.  Larry Bird, Hall of Fame Basketball Player says, “I’ve got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end” 

 Carol Dweck, famous author of “The Growth Mindset” proves in her study with 5th Graders, that the students in the study that were praised for their efforts over their ability ultimately performed better and ultimately had more GRIT (emphasis mine).  The Psychology of Success it seems that praising people for their hard work inspires them to take risks, learn from mistakes, and move on from setbacks.  Praising people for their natural ability, however, makes them feel like they need to prove their natural talent, and any setback seems like a failure. 

What is fascinating about Dweck’s findings is that it goes even deeper than just “praising for effort”.  She goes on to discuss the “power of yet”.  Later in her study as the testing got more difficult, the students that didn’t perform as well, yet were praised for the effort, did not take their poor performance overly hard or personal.  Their mindset wasn’t because they are inherently stupid, but because they don’t understand the material well enough, “yet”.  It shows that a “growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset is the best way to be.  The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies and help from others.  The best thing about having one of the two mindsets (Growth vs. Fixed) is that a growth mindset can be taught.  Dweck looks at the mindsets of famous people in various industries – Michael Jordan as one of the more famous and she revisits moments in history to examine their mindsets.  If you have not read her books, I highly recommend them.  Especially since we can all change to a growth mindset. 

 Famous author and researcher of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”, Angela Duckworth states, “As much as talent counts, effort counts twice”.  When it comes to day to day behaviors, effort really does require zero talent.  It only requires expending energy and committing oneself.  

Written By: Michael Clegg, The Q Works Group