Two Experts Disagree

I like dissent (assuming there are good arguments made on both sides) because it helps in the way I think about things. What I don’t like is dissent with no reasonable argument or logic behind it. “I disagree because I have a gut feeling about it” isn’t good enough. Describe that feeling and tell me why. I may change my viewpoint. Even someone who tends to be skeptical about a lot of things, I can easily be swayed by the voices I already have a bias toward. That’s why I found an article over the Thanksgiving break rather interesting.

The article titled “Willpower, It’s in Your Head” was co-written by Carol Dweck. She wrote this article disagreeing with social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and the New York Times science writer John Tierney who conclude in their book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, that willpower is biologically limited and relies on a replenishment of glucose. Dweck argues that you can develop willpower. Hmmm…I like both Dweck and Tierney’s writing, so who is correct? Both cite the marshmallow test in their research.

Perhaps both are right and that even though we may have genetic predispositions, there are many things we can become better at, including willpower. One neurologist I heard a few years ago said sometimes we have to develop new neural pathways. Old habits, impulses, and temptations will remain, but those new pathways will make it easier for us to resist those impulses. For now, here’s what I think: It is biology, but we have the capacity to change it.

What about Talent?

If you’ve taught long enough, I’m sure you’ve been able to recognize certain talents in your students. How much of that talent was nurtured so that your students were able to practice for over 10,000 hours? If you’ve read Sir Ken Robinson‘s books or seen him speak, you’ll know that his main message is to find the talents that lie within your students and then fuel them to ignite their passions. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he claims that passion is a key ingredient for intrinsic motivation and learning. The Harvard Business Review often has articles about hiring, inspiring, and retaining your talent. They often have entire issues dedicated to talent.

On the other hand, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, based on over a decade worth of analyzing research, says that it’s important to praise and focus on effort, not intellect. It builds resiliency and helps kids become life-long learners. In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell cites the 10,000 hours study and asserts that it is indeed effort, not IQ, that make a difference in becoming successful. And Dan Cole’s, The Talent Code, also looks at the 10,000 hours study, pushing the idea of talent to the side.

An article came out in today’s nytimes saying that we can’t dismiss IQ (or talent), and simply think effort alone will help us get from good to great. The title of the article, “Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters” doesn’t suggest that effort and practice doesn’t count. It just wants us to know that we cannot dismiss intellect and talent.

If you asked me which is more important, talent or effort? I’d say both, but both should allow for mistakes – something some kids are being deprived of in the name of ‘accountability.’

In any case, I’d like to end this post with a quote from Sir Ken Robinson.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”