The talent trap: why potential beats innate talent

Imagine for a second that you are a professional athlete at the top of your game, à la Serena Williams or Usain Bolt. Your goal is to achieve more wins in your sport. If you believe you have a set amount of innate talent, how likely are you to push yourself beyond it?

The Williamses and Bolts of this world do not rely on talent alone to beat competition. Behind the scenes, they train daily towards their ultimate goal of victory on match day.

In his book Bounce, olympian Matthew Syed describes what neuroscience and psychology research tells us about achieving success. Syed concluded that a certain amount of natural talent helps add to the process of achieving goals. But the main ingredient for success is actually practice plus talent. Add a side order of belief in your own potential to this and you’re ready to go.

The problem with A fixed mindset

If you glorify talent to achieve career goals, you may find yourself in a so-called talent trap. This is caused by a fixed mindset that preaches that you either have it or you don’t when it comes to abilities and talents. Carol Dweck, the psychologist who coined the term, defines a fixed mindset as one where individuals “believe that their talents are innate gifts”. As a result, it can leave you feeling unable to progress to the next level.

One of the key issues with a fixed mindset is the limits you put upon yourself. When this kind of thinking is applied to career development, it hinders your chances of self-improvement. It stops you from stretching your ability and getting closer to reaching your full potential. You’re tricked into thinking you have all you need to progress and are powerless to make a change.

why a growth mindset leadS to success

On the flip side, a growth mindset does not have limitations attached to it. Carol Dweck argues that a growth mindset is one where individuals “believe their talents can be developed, through hard work, good strategies, and input from others.”

People with a growth mindset tend to be motivated by passion, purpose, resilience and grit. Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth studied a range of successful people — from swimmers to telesales executives — and came to the conclusion that grit and resilience, rather than innate talent, is what helped lead to their success. This includes a commitment to finish what you start, to rise from setbacks and to undertake sustained and sometimes unpleasant practice in order for self-development.

In the fast-paced world we live in, lifelong learning is more important than ever before. Because of this, it’s important to be open to self-development and growth. Thankfully, we can learn to change our mindset from a fixed one to a growth-focused one.

If you’re ready to take your first step towards cultivating a growth mindset, watch our video for a step-by-step guide. In this tutorial, organisational psychologist Gemma Leigh Roberts gives you the tips and tricks you need to start adopting a growth mindset.


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