Which do people prefer in others, natural talent or hard work? Overwhelmingly, they say, “Hard work.” When forced with a choice though, it is the reverse.
For example, Americans say effort is more important to them than talent by two to one. They prefer industriousness to intelligence by five to one. Actual choices though are almost two to one the other way.
This talent bias affects experts too. Business experts said they liked hard working entrepreneurs over talented ones. Yet, when it came to investing, they chose the “natural” by 58% to 42%. Expert musicians said the same. Yet, they thought the natural player played better even though it was the same musician.
Why Natural Talent?
When it comes to natural talent or hard work, two unconscious biases seem to work in talent’s favor:
- People do not like to think that hard work is the reason others do better than they do.
- People like to be awed, so by contrast hard work is ugly.
The first bias begins with people’s natural tendency to compare themselves to others. When that makes them uncomfortable, they have to resolve it. It is why people will tend to see very good people as boring, ugly or weird.
Hard working people make others question why they do not work as hard. To resolve this, people prefer to think hard workers are naturally talented. They were born with a gift that they were not.
The second bias works like a magic trick. Once we know how it is done, it loses its magic. Michelangelo is often cited here:
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.
YouTube is a great example. Few, if any, videos show the extensive practice sessions of dancers, athletes or musicians. They are not popular. People like to see the magic of the final product. They do not like to watch the hard work. It is unappealing, too “ugly.”
Practical Implications of Natural Talent or Hard Work
When it comes to natural talent or hard work, marketing our talent is better. Hard work is critical to success though. We should just keep it private.
Hard work unnerves people. It triggers defense mechanisms. Hard work is ugly too. We psychologically sweat on others when we talk about it. People prefer to believe in our magic. It is far more wonderful than hard work is. Only we need to know the truth.
- Useem, Jerry, “Is Grit Overrated?” The Atlantic, May 2016.
- Pernice, Mark “Beware of the Bias Toward Natural Ability,” Harvard Business Review, April 2016, pp. 28 & 30.
- Duckworth, Angela, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Scribner; First Edition, 2016.
About The Research:
- “Privileging Naturals Over Strivers: The Costs of the Naturalness Bias,” by Chia-Jung Tsay (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2015)