Monday, July 2, 2007

Drive vs Natural Ability

A old friend of mine posted a great discussion the other day and I think that I have a reply.

I told her about a friend of mine who, while average in terms of natural ability, has always managed to get by (and sometimes even excel) because of her amazing drive. A friend of my roommate's, however, is imbued with talent, intelligence, creativity and vision - yet is rarely able to finish what she starts, due to lack of drive.

Which therefore begs the question: which is worth more, drive or natural ability?

Hey Georgia, I like this question, to which I'll respond with a quote from a UFC fighter, GSP: "The only thing that beats hard work is talented hard work".

I love the question, which is worth more, but I'm thinking that it really hinges on what is actually defined as success. Take the old classic movie Rudy. No "talent", quite "simple", not really bright at all, worked like mule. His success? One play on a college football field (University degree)? For another look, take Boxer from Animal Farm. Not too bright but does the work of two horses and several other animals, talented and hard-working. Of course, Boxer basically gets taken to the cleaners and worked thanklessly until he dies.

So there's some hardwork and some hardwork + talent (but no brains either way).

What about hardwork + little bit of talent? Take Charles Schulz (Peanuts fame). Guy is a workhorse, does 50 straight years of iconic comics. But really, he's not that great, I mean how many times does Charlie Brown miss kicking the ball? Don't get me wrong he's really popular, has some classic stuff, but I read Pearls Before Swine now and my top 10 Peanuts comics (in 50 years) don't come anywhere near my top 10 Pearls comics (in like 5).

So what's up with Pearls? Writer Stephan Pastis is a lawyer by trade. Writes comics in his free time and finally lands a contract with Quits his day job and then goes national when Scott Adams (Dilbert) makes a post on his blog about the comic. Hooks up with Darby Conley (of Get Fuzzy) picks up on the biz in months and now outshines his own mentors. Oodles of hard work combined with a bunch of talent (though I don't think he'll be writing for 30 years :)

So what's my point? Well, I really respect Pastis (Pearls), but the other guys not so much. You can supplant a certain measure of talent with hard work (and vice-versa), but at best you just end up "slightly-better-than-average". Now Peanuts was good at what it did and Schulz made a wonderful life of it, I'm sure. But it was never a Far Side or a Calvin & Hobbes or a Pearls.

The way I see it, Rudy and Boxer and Schulz were all "successful", but maybe at the wrong things.

So I think the answer is that talent is the most important thing to start with, b/c it seems so pointless to hinge a living on something you're bad at. Rudy blew all this time to play football for one shot on the field. For the time he invested, he could've been a star greco-roman wrestler of maybe a pugilist. Boxer at least worked where he had talent, but then that's all he did so he took talent, applied hard work and then completely left out ingenuity. Charles Schulz succeeded based solely on hard work with a little talent thrown in, but he just produced 50 years of the same 20 gags.

But Rudy will never be Michael Jordan and Schulz will be never be Gary Larson. So I'm not saying "don't try", I just think it's really important for people to figure out what they can do passionately AND relatively well before dedicating oodles of hard work.

One of my heroes: "Crazy" Dean Karnaze, an ultra-marathoner, runs 100+ miles at a time. Took him until 30 to realize that he loved doing this stuff, but the guy has a will of steel that pulls him through. His same "will of steel" and work ethic pulled him through university and into a top-paying sales job. But nobody in the sales field will know him, not like the runners who put in 50 miles at time, they know him. He now runs professionally, his records will stand for decades.

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