What makes someone good at their job? Talent or skill?
According to research by Stanford professor Carol Dweck and her colleagues many people believe that people’s performance reflects either their innate talent for that activity or the amount of work they have done to acquire a skill.
In reality, of course, any performance reflects a combination of talent and skill. You can improve on just about any task with a lot of practice, though if your goal is to be the absolute best in the world at something it is also helpful to have some talent for it.
In order to put in the hard work to acquire a skill, you need to believe that the activity really is a skill you can learn. When you believe the activity is a talent then you don’t bother to work hard at it, because you attribute any limitations in your performance to your lack of talent.
RETHINKING CREATIVITY AS A SKILL
This way of thinking about talents and skills is particularly important when it comes to thinking about creativity. For skills that involve actions in the world, such as shooting a free throw or playing a musical instrument, people have a pretty good idea of what they need to do to improve. But for mental skills like creativity, few people know enough about the way their minds work to be able to treat it like a skill.
As a result, most people tend to look at those people who develop creative ideas consistently with a kind of reverence. And people who do seem blessed with a talent for creativity live in fear that talent will run out some day and they will be just like everybody else.
In order to enhance your creativity, here are three things you can do to practice.
1. BECOME AN EXPLAINER
The most creative people in any field are people who have a tremendous amount of knowledge. Creative people like Einstein, Edison, Coltrane, and O’Keefe were also experts in their own field. In this age of Google, there is a tendency to assume that information is available when you need it and so you don’t need to internalize it. But, if you have to interrupt your flow of work whenever you need to look something up, you can’t follow ideas to new places.
In order to maximize the quality of your knowledge, you have to develop the habit to explain things back to yourself. Think about what happens when you sit down to watch a TED talk. A great speaker gives an inspirational 15-minute presentation. While you are listening, you feel that you have understanding of what the speaker is saying. Afterward, if you try to repeat what you learned to someone else you may realize that your feeling of understanding was a reflection that the speaker understood the topic very well. Unless you explain talks like that back to yourself afterwards, though, you have no idea whether you understand it, too.
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