Jonah Lehrer attributes success to grit and “deliberate practice” rather than talent:
The first thing Duckworth, et. al. discovered is that deliberate practice works. Those kids who spent more time in deliberate practice mode – this involved studying and memorizing words while alone, often on note cards – performed much better at the competition than those children who were quizzed by others or engaged in leisure reading. The bad news is that deliberate practice isn’t fun and was consistently rated as the least enjoyable form of self-improvement. Nevertheless, as spellers gain experience, they devote increasing amounts of time to deliberate practice. This suggests that even twelve year olds realize that this is what makes them better, that success isn’t easy.
I found this message appealing and, to a certain degree, intuitive. Not too surprising that strenuous, repeated hard work is necessary for success. Malcolm Gladwell even wrote an entire book about theme a few years ago.
My biggest problem with studies like these (and I’ve looked at a few) is their focus on superstars. Yes, it’s true that the Mozarts and Michael Jordans of the world worked incredibly hard over their entire lives. But not everyone is going to be the spelling bee champion, or even compete at the national stage. For these people, the moderately successful, I’m not sure we can conclude anything from Lehrer’s post. The pretty good but not quite super-awesome may be able to get by on talent alone.