The Talent Equation

There is no such thing as a great talent without great discipline. 

This statement proposes something converse to an idea accepted by many people – the idea that talent is perceived to be a mysterious force that acts on certain people, and is misattributed as something that serendipitously graces a certain segment of the population. I accept this statement’s stance and reject the notion of being naturally talented”, and would even go further to say that talent and even luck are to an extent within the control of anyone who is willing to lead a disciplined life.

Talent can be simplified to a simple equation that proves talent is derived from discipline:

Talent = Discipline x Fun.

Let’s start by defining some terms:

  • To be disciplined is a to have a higher propensity than the general population to follow through with high-friction activities (things that are boring or incremental in nature), repeatedly.
  • To have fun is to enjoy a certain activity, and for the sake of the argument, is also the act of gaining a sense of efficacy and fulfillment out of a certain activity or behavior. Talent is a sense of perceived effortlessness in an activity or discipline that occurs when these factors are combined. 

For example, it takes discipline to participate in a variety of club activities or subjects at school and from there find the things that interest an individual the most. The same discipline and propensity for hard work carries over when one has to make a tough decision about which activities or subjects they need to let go of to increase their commitment to the one thing they love. The same discipline that got someone to a varsity starting lineup or a departmental award needs to carry over to prevent burnout and maintain consistency as one dedicates themselves to the seemingly minuscule details of a game or subject.

Bill Walsh, the former coach of the San Fransisco 49ers famously espouses that the score takes care of itself”. In this instance, the talent’ of players making unbelievable plays and seemingly reading’ the defense comes from the discipline of focusing on the fundamentals of the game and recognizing patterns in the opposing team’s movements. There is no luck here– these activities and formations are tried over and over again until they are engrained in the minds of the players and thus appear truly effortless to the uninformed. However, while discipline is important, it can only take you so far if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing.

Naval Ravikant, a Silicon Valley personality, writes No one can beat you at something that feels like work to them but play to you”. This is the other part of the equation– the activation of discipline and willpower comes from having fun, or finding enjoyment in what an individual is doing.  A skill or activity becomes fun” when one has accumulated enough discipline to apply skills in order to gain a specific outcome. This efficacy, in turn, incentives more practice and discipline, which reenforces the fun and fulfillment, which in turn feeds back into a person’s propensity to follow through with things that are boring or incremental in nature, repeatedly. This positive feedback loop driven by fun is something that can be seen in many areas across the world of athleticism, culture, and the professional world.

Without discipline, an individual’s interest and passion for a skill, subject or sport will inevitably falter and become unsustainable and frustrating. Without fun, burnout and pressure will catch up to even the most hardened individuals. But, when discipline and fun are combined correctly, the positive feedback loop derived from of the two parts of the equation produce favorable outcomes that we feel comfortable attributing to being talented” or getting lucky”. Because of this, the notion of being naturally talented” or being bestowed with luck” feels inadequate and offensive to describe the hard work that has gone into a person’s perceived talent. Therefore, will never be great talent without great discipline (and a little bit of fun). 

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October 1, 2021