Monday, April 13, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell: ""Talent Is The Desire To Practice"

(image via businessweek)

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell was on Fareed Zakaria's amazing GPS this weekend. Unfortunately, the pirate drama -- which was over covered by CNN and everyone else -- concluded, effectively nixing the airing of the interview. But CNN includes transcripts. This interesting exchange between Zakaria and Gladwell on the mystery of "talent." From CNN:

"ZAKARIA: Tell the story of the Beatles with regard to practice.

"GLADWELL: The Beatles are a lovely example, because we think that their story begins with the invasion of America in 1964. Right? These four, fresh-faced, practically teenagers who burst on the scene.

"You know, nothing could be further from the truth. They spend the really critical periods -- they spend two years in Hamburg, Germany, as the house band in a strip club playing eight-hour sets, seven days a week, for months at a stretch.

"They have one of the most extraordinarily intensive apprenticeships in rock 'n' roll. And if you think about what it takes to play -- I mean, the typical set for a rock band is what, an hour, an hour-and-a-half. They did eight-hour sets, day in, day out.

"If you think about that you realize, if you force a group of young musicians to play together over that -- in that way, for months at a stretch -- you're forcing them to master all kinds of different genres, to learn how to play together well, to write songs.

"I mean, everything you need to do, particularly at the dawn of rock 'n' roll, to be the most dominant band of your generation requires some kind of apprenticeship. And lo and behold, they have it.

"And I would argue, and many agree with me, that no Hamburg, no Beatles. You know, they're just not the band that we remember unless they had that kind of intensive training.

"ZAKARIA: But of course, it raises an interesting question to me, which is, you could imagine a lot of other bands being told, "I've got good news for you. You've got a great gig in Hamburg, Germany. The bad news is you're going to have to play eight hours a day, seven days a week." And they would have said, 'No way. We're not going to do it.'

"So, something about that group made them relish the opportunity...


"ZAKARIA: ... to do enormous amounts of practice. And presumably, that's true of some of these sportsmen and true of other people.

"That is, yes, it takes practice. But you need a certain mentality to want to practice...

"GLADWELL: To want to practice that much.

"ZAKARIA: ... the hell out of it. You know, the...

"GLADWELL: What you have described is what I believe talent is.

"Talent is the desire to practice. Right? It is that you love something so much that you are willing to make an enormous sacrifice and an enormous commitment to that, whatever it is -- task, game, sport, what have you."

It is an interesting un-aristocratic argument, deemphasizing "God-given" talent (or, if you will, inborn or racial advantages) saying, essentially, that anyone with enough focus and ambition could master a field. The full transcript here.

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