Talent is a process!

I finished David Shenk’s new book, “The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent and IQ is Wrong.” It is a good read.

In a nutshell Shenk argues that “Talent is not a thing, it’s a process!”

Shenk joins the growing literature that is redefining popular conceptions of talent — books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Daniel Pink’s Drive, Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, among others. Each in their own way challenge cultural, sociological and political commonplaces (subtle and not-so-subtle) that perpetuate the idea that talent, intelligence and, thereby, success and achievement are endowments we cannot change.

The Genius in All of Us covers some of the same ground that Malcolm Gladwell covers in Outliers (the 10,000 hour rule for example), but Shenk takes a decidedly more biological and genetic framework for his argument. In some ways, he takes Carol Dweck’s foundational argument about our mindsets and grounds it in a genetic framework. Shenk’s work demonstrates the growth dynamic through examples like Ted Williams.

Letting Shenk speak for himself, he says,

Some people are training harder and smarter than before. We’re better at stuff, because we’ve figured out how to become better.Talent is not a thing, it’s a process. This is not at all how we’re used to thinking about talent. With phrases like, ‘he must be gifted’, ‘good genes’, ‘innate ability’ and ‘natural born runner, shooter, talker, painter’, our culture regards talent as a scarce genetic resource. A thing that one either does or does not possess…


But the whole concept of genetic giftedness turns out to be wildly off the mark. … In recent years, a mountain of scientific evidence has emerged that overwhelmingly suggests a completely different paradigm: not talent scarity but latent talent abundance.

I am not an expert on genes, but the concept of “latent talent abundance” rings true to me as a teacher.

The question we must ask ourselves as educators is: Do our institutions reflect our understanding of human talent and growth? Are we part of enterprises dedicated to unlocking a vast latent talent abundance, or are we, as educators, gatekeepers of scarce resources? I know which side I am on!


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