In her recent Mind and Matter column in The Wall Street Journal, Alison Gopnik talks about the pitfalls of believing in innate talent. The column, titled “The Dangers of Believing that Talent is Innate”, points to a study, published in the journal Science, that found that professors and students in certain fields, namely philosophy, music, economics and math, believe that a certain level of innate talent is required in order to succeed in those fields. Interestingly, the study found a direct correlation between this belief and the number of women and African Americans working in those fields. The higher the importance, or perceived importance, of innate talent in a field, the lower the number of women and African-Americans. It would seem that this mindset, this belief in an innate talent as a pre-requisite, is limiting people’s opportunities in academia, before they even get a chance to try.
Clearly this mindset has an unfortunate downside, it is deterring people, brilliant, innovative people, from exploring careers that they might greatly enjoy. It has also been shown to hold people back from development. If you already believe that you possess a talent in something, why would you need to improve in that area? Believing in innate talent can stop high potential people in their tracks. The focus should not be on innate talent, but rather on innate tendencies and predispositions. We all are unique, by increasing self-awareness and getting to know your natural self, you can uncover those natural inclinations. What roles are you best suited for behaviorally? At which types of tasks are you naturally good? What are your beliefs, values and driving forces? What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning, ready and excited for a new day? What talents have you developed and which ones could use further development? How do you go about making decisions and solving problems? Do not let others decide for you. Know yourself and set a course for success.