Our Fascination with the Natural
Recently, I watched the Academy Award winning film Good Will Hunting for the first time.
If you haven’t seen it or have forgotten the storyline, here is my brief synopsis.
Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) is a genius with photographic memory that lives in Boston.
While working as a janitor at MIT, one of the professors discovers Will’s brilliant mind.
Professor Lambeau takes it upon himself not only save Will from a jail sentence, but mentoring him into a world changing mathematician.
One of the most striking aspects of this film is the professor’s obsession with Will’s natural talent or intelligence.
Professor Lambeau is a man of relatively average intelligence that has become world renown for his contributions in mathematics.
His achievements have been a product of his hard work and determination.
But… instead of finding another version of himself to mentor, he chooses to obsess over a young man who is everything he is not.
He chooses to invest in the “natural” talent of a reckless and unmotivated Will Hunting instead of his gritty, hard working, and loyal graduate assistant.
How often are we like Professor Lambeau?
Even as viewers we are fascinated by Will’s natural ability and effortless achievement.
We cannot help but envy his natural intelligence, even though everything else about his life is just an absolute mess.
As humans, our naturalness bias creeps into business, athletics, and education on a daily basis.
We believe we value hard working and persistent people, but we have an obsession for talent.
Grit versus Natural Ability
Angela Duckworth’s book Grit discusses the importance of intelligence.
Issac Newton, yes the Issac Newton, only had an IQ of 130. 130 is below the average IQ of Harvard students today!
Duckworth shares Stanford researcher Catherine Cox’s study revealing that yes the most accomplished people in history over the last few centuries were smarter than the average person, but their was little relationship between their level of intelligence and their level of influence.
Essentially having an IQ of 190 or 130 did not determine the level of their success.
What was the determining factor?
Cox called it persistence and Duckworth calls it “Grit”.
Is Our Obsession with Talent Keeping Us from Our Best?
So what does this all have to do with tryouts, recruiting or who we invest our time in?
Well most of us claim to value work ethic and persistence, but when it comes down to it, we recruit, chase, and select the players with the most talent.
Duckworth explains it as the following: “The “naturalness bias” is a hidden prejudice against those who’ve achieved what they have because they worked for it, and a hidden preference for those whom we think arrived at their place in life because they’re naturally talented. We may not admit to others this bias for naturals; we may not even admit it to ourselves. But the bias is evident in the choices we make.”
What are the things you believe you value the most in your players?
If you ask most coaches, we will claim traits like hard working, responsible, positive, and respectful.
In reality those traits are often just a extra bonus in our minds.
Because when it comes to making cuts, recruitment, or even who we put in the game- we end up valuing the more talented player.
We see the athletic and naturally gifted individual and our eyes light up at the “potential” we see in them.
Shouldn’t a positive attitude and a good work ethic be the first things we look at when we try to determine an individuals potential?
Take Action: We Need a Healthy Balance
UNC Women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, who is one of the most winningest coaches of all time, said “talent is common; what you invest to develop that talent is the critical final measure of greatness.”
And in response to those who believe his success is due to his talent pool: “That’s simply incorrect. We’re out-recruited by five or six schools on a regular basis. Our extraordinary success is about what we do once the players get here. It’s our culture.” *
I know, we can’t ignore talent.
But we can’t keep ignoring attitude and effort.
Duckworth believes effort counts twice.
Lets at least make it equal to that of talent.
Imagine what would happened if we did the following:
- We stopped chasing the talented recruits who have been taught all their lives to feel entitled and instead gave some “gritty” individuals the opportunity they worked for.
- We made our team selections this season by leaving off a few of the more talented players so we could keep some of the more gritty players.
- We set our line up or depth chart based on those that worked the hardest and had the best attitude in practices leading up to the game.
Some parents and fans will lose their mind and might even call you crazy, but there will no longer be a question about what you value.
You will probably lose some games that you could have won, but you will most likely have a better “team” by the end of the season.
The less gritty more talented player may quit or be upset, but if he perseveres he will become less entitled, more gritty, and might just fight his way back to the top.
The more gritty less talented player will most likely surprise you by becoming a lot more talented and even gritty, remember effort counts twice!
And we can’t forget the fact that you will enjoy coaching a great deal more!
The players will work hard, listen, and come to respect you more than ever, because they will believe you when you claim to value hard work, leadership, and a great attitude.