What makes someone good at something?

Great minds frequently encounter violent opposition from mediocre minds. Yet, those great minds should also be physically superior if you listen to our friends from Cambridge (Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance).

Observing that those born earlier in the year tend to perform better – especially at age-level sports but also beyond – researchers are trying to understand why. While having a few months as a child over the person sitting beside you might give you a little advantage as a child, it’s the gap created by teachers, coaches and the public reinforcing talent that really creates an advantage. By inadvertently rewarding earlier development rather than genuine talent, and punishing delayed development rather than accepting variations as just part of the heterogeity of childhood, we make the smart kids smarter, and let the less talented students trail.

I didn’t realise that it was so marked until I learned about how national youth teams (the ones that feed into the senior teams) have children born in January, February and March – at the start of the measured year – outnumber those born in the rest of the year by up to a dozen or so to one!

Sure talent has a role – especially in grabbing attention – but, according to Ericsson, the key to learning is less talent: the game is really about immediate feedback and specific goal setting. So do what you love… it’s the only thing that you’ll bother to do well anyway.