I’ve seen something in my generation, and definitely in myself, where we value raw talent over actual skill and experience. I suspect it is related to the kind of stories we grew up with in movies and TV:

Established, skilled protagonist is an evil cocky bastard. Young laid back hero with little or no experience but tons of pure raw talent defeats them with little or no training, or if there is a lot of training it is done as a quick montage which doesn’t really give you the sense of real hard work. Everyone loves the hero, especially now that they understand how valuable he is due to his talent. He continues to just magically be the best because he’s awesome the end.

I think a bunch of us took this to heart, I know I did. After some point in school it was a point of pride that I did as little homework as possible and didn’t study for tests. Anyone can study and do well (I thought), but how many people can totally slack and still do well?

There was to be a purity to raw talent, which was tainted by actual effort.

This was made more dangerous for me because I have a generalized ‘talent’ where I can get pretty good at most things with little effort (and pretty damn good at some stuff), and that just reinforced this ethic… it feels wrong to call it that.

I did it with music, sports, and school. The first time it really didn’t work was when I tried to take a 200 level computer science course at the local university during high school. Not only, incredibly, did procrastination and slacking not work, it didn’t work like a brick to the face.

My first semester in college had a perfect storm of badness:

  1. I really hadn’t learned my lesson from the above incident and still wanted to get by on raw talent and minimal effort.
  2. Although I had passed with decent grades both Calc I and Calc II and could have received college credit for them during high school, I decided not to because I wanted to make sure I got an A in both so I could max out my GPA. God I was so dumb.
  3. Netrek. ’nuff said. I was playing in the game where the term “Ogg” was coined.
  4. I got pneumonia about halfway through the semester.
  5. I got a part time job at the business college and by god programming professionally was a ton more interesting and fun than schoolwork, and at the time my pay of $10/hr. was huge.

It gets worse. I got better a week or two before finals, and instead of doing the sane thing, which meant filing to drop all my classes due to extenuating circumstances, I pressed on and took the finals anyway, assuming my raw talent and brains would get me through. Against everyone’s recommendations. For the professors it must have been like seeing a car wreck about to happen, getting the attention of the driver in plenty of time, but being unable to convince them to turn.

I drew a little mushroom cloud on the front page of one of the finals before handing it in, if that helps illustrate (haha) how well that plan worked.

Since then these lessons have finally managed to sink in, and now if anything I value experience and provable skill more than I should. As you dig into any story where it appears someone with incredible talent blew away everyone else, you find out that they also outworked their competition.

The prototypical example is Tiger Woods. Does he have the greatest raw talent of any golfer on the planet? That’s irrelevant, the no doubt large amounts of talent he has plus the incredible amount of work he’s put into his craft leads to his results, which are the only thing we can truly measure. He wouldn’t be a better person or a better golfer if he worked less but still had great results. If someone else claimed greater talent, first how do you measure it, and second what good is it without the effort and experience to translate that talent into skill?