Talent or Work Ethic?

I could walk down any street and ask random people whether they would employ someone with a great work ethic or someone with natural talent and most would pick the hard worker. OR would they?


On the surface many of us believe in hard work and all that it represents; determination, resilience, focus, commitment. We all think these are worthwhile characteristics and as such we would look for these in people we want working for us. Studies, however, have shown that deeper down we love the natural talent, we want the gifted superstar, we need the 'naturals'. University College London professor, Dr. Chia-Jung Tsay has found that most investors would openly state their preference for hard workers when looking for an entrepreneur. Yet, after completing a series of experiments they revealed that they would invest in people with natural talent. A hard worker or 'striver' as Tsay described them was at a distinct disadvantage. A striver needed on average four and a half years more leadership experience, slightly better management skills, a 28-point higher IQ, and an extra $40,000 in accrued capital to match it with a 'natural' when gaining backing from an experienced investor.

What does that say about our perception and our reality when it comes to work ethic over talent.

It may help to define 'talent' as a natural aptitude or ability to do something well.

Is it innate or is it influenced by certain elements? It's pretty easy to argue that genetics would help in creating talent in certain areas. For example, two 6 foot 5 parents are more than likely going to create a tall child or children, and their ability in basketball or volleyball or rowing will be enhanced because of this.

What about circumstantial influences? A child raised in a dry arid area of Africa is highly unlikely to show talent for half pipes and snow boarding the first time they see snow. Distance running may be something they lend themselves to.

What about family influences? A child who is exposed to a parent who is an excellent hip hop dancer and one who does it in front of the child in their early years, will inevitably show 'talent' for dancing because of that exposure.

There are many variables that help in determining talent and as such is it possible that subconsciously, that's what the investors are being influenced by. Some have argued that 'talent' doesn't actually exist in the way that many of us look at it. That is, the ability for a child to pick up a ball with no technical coaching and pitch it at 100km/hr or the music prodigy who sits at a piano for the first time and plays a concerto. There is no doubt certain 'outliers' are exposed to an activity at the right time and they have the ability to learn faster, and execute more accurately, and understand more deeply the intricacies of that activity. These 'freaks' are the tiny minority of so called 'talented' people. For many regarded as 'talented' the differentiation is not as apparent, and so we are back to where we started, would we search for the 'naturals' or the hard workers.

If we want the best we should be looking for both. We need to establish early the capability of a person to learn a particular activity quickly, for them to understand the concept and then be able to execute it accurately and under pressure. Their genetic make up will lend itself to success in some exploits but not all. We should also establish their level of competitive nature and their willingness to work hard to achieve success. This will definitely be helped by having a growth mindset where there is no fear of failure and where willingness to experiment and explore exists. Providing access to time, a positive environment, facilities and quality leadership in coaches and mentors will also enhance the exposure of the talent whilst creating the environment for hard work.

So, if I walked down the same street with a little hindsight and after reading this blog, most people I think would invest time in examining a persons 'talent' AND 'work ethic' to find the person capable of exhibiting both attributes. In that person maybe we would find the best.