Who is better? The Natural or The Hard Worker?

Cover of "The Natural (Director's Cut)"
Cover of The Natural (Director's Cut)

You’ve seen them. The girl who was handed a bat for the first time and smacked the first pitch over the left fielder’s head. The kid in high school who wandered over, still wearing his school uniform, picked up a javelin and casually threw it 15 feet further than everyone else.

We talk about them with one part awe, one part jealousy, one part hoping for our own ego’s sake that it was a lucky shot and they couldn’t do THAT again if they tried.

We call them naturals. And we believe that they are somehow blessed with talent, better than the rest of us and more certain of success.

We value hard work. But…

But our culture leads us to believe that trying harder, putting in the effort, persistence and striving is the only way to success. You won because you worked harder than the rest of them. You put in your time, you focused and sacrificed.

We value the Natural and the Striver. But which one do we value more?

Professional musicians were asked to rate two candidates who were equal in achievement, but differed in the path to their current level:

  1. The Natural, clear evidence of early innate ability
  2. The Striver, early signs of motivation and persistence

Although the pros subscribed to the reward of hard work over natural talent, a Harvard study showed that they believed the Natural was more talented and had a brighter future than the grinding Striver. Remember, the subjects were equal in achievement; the pros simply believed natural, innate gifts were superior to hard work.

We Think Hard Work is Better

Our reasonable, analytical minds agree that hard work is the only path to success: the widely discussed commitment of 10,000 hours to become masterful. Yet we perceive natural ability as ‘better’, more authentic and, not to overuse the term, more natural.

Natural is not, of course “better”. We are not born with an innate ability to hit a moving sphere hundreds of feet with a narrow piece of wood. That is a skill that is learned, developed from hours and hours of repetitive practice, strengthening visuo-motor neural paths in the brain. We know that.

It’s interesting where we place the value on our elite performers, isn’t it?

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