Mozart, Picasso and the Queen’s Gambit: It Isn’t All About Talent

The world is made up of two types of people: those with a natural and obvious talent in a certain field — one they seem almost to have been born with — and those who are more or less reasonably good in several different fields but don’t really excel in a specific one. If they do decide to focus on something specific, they’d have to train hard and practice relentlessly in order to excel at it. Which type best describes you?

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Professor John Hayes of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania has researched the training, practice, and knowledge of people who excel in their fields, such as Mozart and Picasso. He wanted to determine how long it took them to reach their world-class level of skill and expertise. He surveyed several notable composers and analyzed musical pieces composed between the years 1685 and 1900 in order to make a list of the 500 most often played musical pieces by symphony orchestras around the world, all of which are now considered masterpieces. The 500 pieces were composed by 76 composers in total.

Professor Hayes then drew up a timeline of the career of each of these composers, calculating how long they had been composing for before they created their most popular pieces. Surprisingly, he discovered that nearly all masterworks were composed at least 10 years into each composer’s career. That means that a gifted composer such as Mozart had to work and train for at least 10 years before he could come up with a piece that became truly popular and well-liked.

Born with it or simply hard work? Running a business based on strengths.

Most businesses are created thanks to the talent of entrepreneurs who homed in on their abilities and translated them into something others are willing to pay for. If you belong to the first type mentioned above, where your talent is clear and obvious to you and to the world, then it seems like your road to success is already half-paved. For others, though, it isn’t always so simple. In fact, a person’s dialogue with their own talents can often turn into a charged and complex matter.

Refining your qualities for the sake of achieving business success requires a wide-angled view of yourself as well as an understanding of how people perceive and experience you, and how you can take advantage of that perception. Think of it as a SWOT analysis of yourself as a business owner.

The Queen’s Gambit is the perfect example.

Research from the field of chess has shown that many chess-masters clock between 3,000 and a whopping 25,000 hours of practice annually. Obviously, not all of them end up becoming world-class players. Researchers explain that the variance occurs from a very early stage, with the age of a player and their start point playing the determining factors. The chance to become a gifted violinist or a professional basketball player has everything to do with the age the person first held a violin or a basketball.

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the book “Outliers: The Story of Success”, believes that the key to success in each field is practicing a specific task for 10,000 hours. Would you be prepared to invest so much time in developing one skill?

Well, Beth Harmon, made famous by “The Queen’s Gambit”, was prepared to do so (not that she had better options to choose from). Harmon was exposed to the game of chess from age 6, and immediately discovered she had an innate talent for the game coupled with incredible intuition and plain genius, all of which allowed her to practice and memorize thousands of moves, styles, positions and even entire games. Someone, please tell me what’s in those green pills!

But what happens when your business focus requires you to use skills you’re uncomfortable with and that end up consuming your time and energy?

I had an interesting chat about this topic with a customer I’ve been working with for the past several months. As a security expert, he is the epitome of what you’d call a “people person”. He works relentlessly on establishing a new business, and he does it with gusto. Since his company is still relatively new, he preferred to save resources and do most things himself, with only a few other employees working on a rather casual basis. He’s a natural when it comes to some business tasks, yet there are tasks he struggles with — market research, digital marketing, and business development, among others. Working on these tasks has ended up consuming a lot of his time and energy, thereby also indirectly affecting sales, which is where he feels most at home.

He confided in me that it has taken him a long time to reach the stage where he can release his hold of some tasks and being sourcing them out. It happened when he realized that in order for his company to grow, he would have to focus on his strengths and on what he’s good at — and let go of the things that slow him down. He noticed that he avoids dealing with marketing since it isn’t something he excels at, instead preferring to focus his work on easier tasks that flow well, delivering an almost instant gratification without too much effort on his part.

Eventually, he came to the realization that this way of thinking does not put the company’s vision center-stage, and if that vision is ever to be realized, he would have to step out of his comfort zone and make things happen.

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships (Michael Jordan)

Investing in growth engine development in fields that you as a business owner are not an expert in will allow business growth over the long term. Managing a stable and steady marketing array will produce exposure, interest, customers, and (most importantly) demand, which you can control, predict and prepare for.

Handing over responsibility to another professional isn’t always a simple step even if you know they’re there to help you, but doing so will enable growth and development, and will allow you to make use of the specialized knowledge of professionals in their field who have a wider understanding of the market you operate in and the opportunities that await you. More importantly, it will allow you once again to focus on your talents and your natural strengths — those that make you want to get up in the morning and leave a new mark on the world with each passing day.

Terry Farber Eliasaf is the CEO of a marketing agency specializing in High-Tech and B2B corporate storytelling and growth strategies, a consultant & lecturer.