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Effort is The Greatest Muse

May 28, 2014
Tony D

Greatness, does it stem solely from raw talent? Are some people simply born with that special natural ability? Or, is there something else at play that sets apart those who truly excel at their craft?

During last week's HOW Design Live conference, the annual North American pilgrimage destination for all things design, a common and very interesting thread weaved its way through several of the great sessions on hand - effort vs talent, and what does it take to continually churn out great creative work.

Some of you may already be familiar with the current ongoing debate of the significance of the so-called "10,000 hours of practice" rule, which Malcolm Gladwell presents as the average time of deliberate practice that is observed among those who excel at their disciplines (music, chess, sports, etc...). Loosely put, the theory states that the degree of talent one has will only slightly increase or decrease that golden number of 10,000 hours (someone gifted might only need 7000 hours of practice in comparison to someone less naturally inclined). While other research, most notably by Zachary Hambry, suggested that talent is much more a factor than deliberate training.

ImageSo what does this mean for the majority of designers, writers and creatives out there, not to mention any one of us who want to excel at their work or hobbies? How can we learn from this bit of social science? One thing that academics do agree on is that practice, perseverance, and passion are key, no matter how much talent one has.


Maria Popova, in her session "7 Things I've Learned From 7 Years of Writing, Reading and Living" phrased it quite nicely as "Showing Up" when she looked at the source of success of great writers - one can't sit idle for inspiration to strike them in order to start writing. Successful writers write, a lot, and they work at it everyday. Perhaps it's even more important to do so when "writing" is the last thing one wants to do. The world of art, music, and sport have countless examples of individuals who through sheer hard work and near obsession achieved dizzying heights, as well as of those who despite showing such great promise never reached their full potential because of lack of effort.

So the next time you find yourself stuck or spinning your wheels, remember idleness does not bring greatness about. It is exactly during those times when we're bogged down, feeling tired or less motivated that we've got to pick ourselves up, work hard and persevere, whether it's writing new copy, brainstorming a new print design or putting together a proposal for a new client. Effort is, after all, the greatest muse.

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