If like me you loved the inquisitive mindset in Freakonomics where the authors ask numerous unrelated questions of how the world works, you will find the following article fascinating. Stephen Dubner and Stephen Levitt, the Freakonomics authors, start by analyzing the birth-month soccer anomaly to conclude that two people’s innate genetic differences in doing any task is often overwhelmed by how much practice each person had had at the given task.

The birth-month soccer anomaly is that elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months. This is even more pronounced for the youth teams that feed the World Cup and professional ranks. On recent English teams, half the elite teenage soccer players were born in January, February or March. In Germany, 52 elite youth players were born in the first three months of the year, with just 4 players born in the last three.

I won’t reveal the cause of the birth-month anomaly – read the article 🙂 – but suffice it to say it’s not that certain astrological signs confer superior soccer skills!

As part of their inquisition, Dubner and Levitt analyze the “Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance” a 900-page academic book on performance by Andrew Ericsson, a psychologist at Florida State University. The book studies expert performers from a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. The intriguing conclusion is that the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. In other words, experts are made, not born. Practice does make perfect as our parents have been telling us all along!

The conjoint conclusion is that when choosing a path in life you should do what you love – because if you don’t love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to be very good. Most people naturally don’t like to do things they aren’t “good” at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don’t possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

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