Does Talent Exist? Breaking The Alpha Barrier of Exponential Growth

Do I believe that talent- the innate skill and aptitude to handle one or multiple activities- exists? Absolutely.

I say this begrudgingly because I come from a wrestling background that has drilled into my head that “hard work beats talent” and “talent is a word invented by those who don’t know how to sweat”. That doesn’t change the fact that the talented, working somewhat hard, beats the untalented working extremely hard.

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Some great athletes get insulted if you call them talented. 

While denying the existence of talent may inspire mental toughness and a strong internal locus of control, the prideful intent behind the message can actually hold back progress for some people. Talent is essentially the efficiency of human productivity. Pride in the wrong direction can block efficiency. You can work hard for years without the right knowledge or system and accomplish nothing.

On the other side of the spectrum, many people give up when they believe that they simply do not have talent. In reality, some of the greatest performers in the world of nearly every field started off with very little talent and struggled immensely in the beginning of their journeys. They rose to the top through work ethic.

Passionate, goal-driven individuals must not accept talent as “something that people are just borne having or have not”. Nor should they believe that talent does not exist. A more productive approach would be to view talent as a set of conditions that can be met and acquired.

To understand talent, we must understand what it is not. Talent is commonly confused with knowledge and genetic advantage.

Society tends to overestimate talent and underestimate knowledge. I know from practicing Brazilian Jiujitsu that one fighter being adept at just a few concepts that his opponent, of similar experience, is ignorant of can result in a lopsided victory. An entire series of tournament-winning techniques can be rendered completely useless simply by placing your weight on the wrong side of your butt.

Too often, people get discouraged from pursuing a career or hobby after accepting that they “just don’t have the talent”. Imagine how much more talented the world would be if these people had asked instead, “what knowledge am I missing?”

Second, genetic advantage is self-explanatory: size, a fighters’ reach, photographic memory, acquired savant syndrome, etc. Genetic advantages that are predisposed. G.As, if the science exists, can be systemically isolated, observed, and analyzed.

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Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting (1997) is a very good example of genetic advantage combined with talent.

Talent, finally, is innate aptitude: the special ability to progress faster and perform better than others equal in work ethic, health, and experience. Talent is holistic, inter-connected, ever-changing, and individualistically unique. It is more difficult to measure in a systematic manner because the variables are harder to identify and quantify.

Talent is good internal synergy-the right combination of an individual’s motor neural pathways; pathways that just click in the right places without getting in the way of each other.

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Motor neurons govern our abilities and personality traits-from judo to using chopsticks and from wittiness to procrastination.

Metaphorically, if skill is a radio channel, then talent forms the range of frequencies that can intercept the signal. More precise frequencies equate to less static and better talent. The more static, the less talent. The best talent vibrates at the perfect frequency to receive.

I believe that there exists a set of conditions- an Alpha Barrier– that once broken, can lead an individual to this optimal “frequency”.

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The right set of internal frequencies grants Thor the ability to wield Mjornir.

An untalented person may experience retarded growth for quite some time but, given tenacity and time, the right pieces may fall together and click: alpha barrier broken: rapid development ensues.

So how can the conditions of talent be replicated? How can an individual use his or her work ethic to break the “Alpha Barrier” that serves as gatekeeper of exponential growth?

There is no one size-fit all solution. Every skill set and every individual requires a unique blueprint for development. Acquiring talent is a game of chance that can improve with the following:

1. Perseverance. Some people will develop their talent quickly. Others can expect years of slow progress before acquiring the pieces necessary for exponential growth.

Working hard, working smart, and never giving up are an individual’s best chance of eventually discovering and unleashing hidden potential.

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2.Strong grasp of fundamentals. The most elite performers in any field have an uncanny ability to break down highlight reel moments into its most basic core components. Possessing flawless fundamentals will provide a powerful base that can be used to rapidly develop proficiency in more complicated maneuvers and to augment an individual’s ability to adapt to unique situations. The best athletes in the world practice the basics over and over again. 

3. Learning how to learn. Learning is time wasted if the knowledge cannot be retained or applied.   The road to success requires a customized path for every individual. What works for peers, mentors, or role models may not work in the same manner for you. One must take ownership of the process.

A famed Brazilian JiuJitsu fighter once said: “the difference between my brown belts and my black belts is that the brown belt knows how it all works but the black belt knows how it all works for him [or her]”.

You have to make your learning work for you and you have to learn what serves you.

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4. Mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness meditation, or being in the present moment has been attributed to heightened levels of focus, improved awareness, improved stress management, and superior performance in general.

Many individuals sabotage their own goals by getting in their own way. Being mindful of one’s practice allows an individual to be fully engaged in the process.  Mindfulness helps filter out mental clutter and baggage, thus providing clarity to the practitioner. The practitioner discovers what needs to be done and what needs to be discarded.

5. Growth Mind Set. Top performers including: Kobe Bryant, Conor McGregor, and Mark Zuckerberg all cite the continuous process of learning as one of their main sources of motivation. Challenge yourself, evolve constantly, and question the status quo.

Learn to be comfortable with cognitive dissonance; don’t just get angry because you are presented information that usurps everything you think you know about your practice. Those moments often come with major breakthroughs!  Growth starts at the edge of one’s comfort zone. Outside that comfort zone contains the pieces of a key that unlocks great talent.

Learn how to take a loss and see it as a learning process rather than a personal failure. Focus on the journey and the joy of learning rather being overly attached to the result.

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UFC Champion Conor McGregor and UFC fighter Gunnar Nelson are not afraid to step outside traditional MMA training regimens to study with human movement specialist, Ido Portal.

6. Environment and Mentorship. Surround yourself with people and settings that help you be the best you. It is said, “You are the average of the top five people you have chosen to associate most with”. Do not be shallow and closed-minded but be selective. You are not selfish for being picky regarding the type of people that get to influence you.

My rule of thumb is to stay away from the following: mentors that demand absolute loyalty and strict adherence to tradition, friends that demand conformity, people whom never tell you “no”, and people with huge egos. These types of people and environments will just get in your way.

 7. Passion and Obsession. An untalented obsessed individual, constantly thinking about his or her craft, will nitpick every detail until talent has long ceased to be a relevant issue.

People whom genuinely love their craft the most will have the best chance of taking it to the highest levels. My advice to any individual frustrated at the lack of progress is: if you cannot find talent, back off and find passion and let it guide you; talent without passion will just wither anyways.

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