Thursday, August 01, 2013

Who is more talented - Ishaan or Jeevan?

Ishaan, a VIIIth class student, scores well in Science, Mathematics and other subjects. In one of the IQ tests he gave, he scored in the range of 130. He is always ranked amongst the first three in his class. Ishaan however has few friends, in large part because he has very poor social skills. Ishaan has no hobbies to speak of, and is unengaged in significant extracurricular activities outside of school. 

Jeevan, also in VIIIth class, is in the same school as Ishaan. He does well in many subjects, but ranks somewhere middle in the class. However, he is active in football. He also is a highly talented guitar player. And his teachers feel that he can reach very high potential in guitar, if he wish to follow that path. Jeevan is very popular in the school 

Who is more talented? Ishaan, Jeevan or both? Or neither? In answering this question, three things must be kept in mind.

First, “talentedness” is a label—nothing more. Even if you ask this question to a psychologist, you will get multiple answers to this question, because there is no one absolute or “correct” set of criteria. Because of Lewis Terman, high IQ has got more equated with 'talent'. Even today, when a child does well in academic subjects in schools, we wrongly consider him/her as a talented student ( and forget to give him much needed support !)

But we must remember, that criteria for such labeling are a matter of opinion, nothing more, and there are many disagreements, even among psychologists, as to which label is right. By the way Lewis Terman had assumed that only students with IQ more than 135 are highly gifted and talented in his study. So even Terman may not have labelled Ishaan as 'talented'. On the other hand, we find many Noble Prize winners hover around the mark of IQ of 130. Are they less talented?

Second, the label can be applied in either a more general or a more specific way. Earlier, the student was termed as talented only if he does well in academic domain. His proficiency in non-academic domain like music and sports was not considered to be important. Now the psychologists generally agree that the talent can be seen in a very narrow domain like verbal domain or writing. Even within a domain, there are narrow domains. For instance, even in writing, you may be a good fiction writer or a non-fiction writer. So domain-specific talent has been recognised as an important criteria of talented people. By that definition, you may consider Jeevan to be talented in music. With domain not chosen, Ishaan is perhaps at a disadvantage, because he has to decide in which domain - accountancy, engineering, medical - he wants to excel?

Third, concept of talent depends on the context in which the ability grows. Forty years back, a child’s ability rapidly to learn a language like Sanskrit was an important sign of talent. Today, such an ability would be relatively less valued. A decade earlier, talent in computing was not even recognised because there was no 'software' profession. Today you hear about child geniuses like Tomar who dropped out from school because computing can be learnt 'without school'. Similarly, the skills that lead a child to be labeled as talented might be different in a rural village in Bihar, than in urban Mumbai. A child in Bihar, who is more street smart to live in hostile situation develops different abilities than a student in Mumbai where his environment offers him many more opportunities to explore.


Talent at the VIIIth class is just a label. That does not ensure that the student will be able to 'realise' his talent and become a 'top performer' in the later age. Therefore many researchers call such 'early talent' as a 'gift'. I also call it a gift when it is seen in children, because it has to be 'discovered and then explored and utilised'.

As you would have realised, both Ishaan and Jeevan, can become excellent performers, but in different domains, if they manage to use the 'systems around them' to deepen their 'gifted' abilities. Because of the 'supportive systems' in our society for academic ability students, Ishaan may get better opportunities of excelling. On the other hand, this does not mean that Ishaan's future success is guaranteed. Because of his 'non social nature', Ishaan has to learn to find the right method to 'utilise' and nurture his academic abilities.

Jeevan, however, may require different kind of 'advise and guidance' to excel in his domain.Because music domain is highly risky domain to excel,  Jeevan may have to develop a fall-back plan. So both will face challenges that will have to be negotiated in their journey of 'utilising their gift'. Success is not guaranteed to either of them although, in today's environment in India, we may assume that Ishaan is more lucky!

But more importantly, we discount character traits, because we feel that they are less important in excelling. We tend to assume that only key cognitive abilities like - science or music- help us excel. But the psychologists have found out that  abilities are just one piece of the 'gift'. Our character traits are equally important part of the whole 'gift package' that help us excel, such as openness to experience that help us learn faster , or our communication skills that enable us to present our ideas and garner support of others, or our creativity to find new solution to existing problem. Our gift is not just one ability, but is a package that also includes our character traits. We have to use the entire gift package. 

In the above examples, both Jeevan and Ishaan may succeed or fail  due to their personal traits. We can easily see this phenomenon in sports. Vinod Kambli was supposed to be as talented as Sachin Tendulkar, but his gift package did not include the character trait of  'concentration'. If you see the stupendous success of Dhoni, which we discussed in the earlier blog, you will appreciate the importance of his mind set, which is part of his unique gift package.Or we also read how Andy Murray's success can also be related to his  character trait which combined with his tennis is a unique gift package.

The key to succeed in life is therefore in discovering, exploring and utilising the entire gift package of yours. Do you know what is the gift package of your child/student? 

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