Talent Versus Hard Work: Which One Determines Career Success?

There are remarkable people in this world who excel in their chosen field of work because they are blessed with natural talent. So where does that leave people who just aren’t as ‘gifted’? We’ve been told that hard work can trump any kind of talent, but is that really true or are they just empty words of comfort for people who aren’t perceived to be naturally good at what they do? There have been a lot of research done on this topic. We take a closer look at the talent versus determination debate.

Determined businessman image from Shutterstock

In 2011, two professors of psychology published an opinion piece in the New York Times that would have been a punch in the guts to anybody out there who has lived by the axiom “hard work pays off”. What the article suggested was no matter how hard you strive to improve in your field of work to compensate for a lack of talent, you won’t beat those who are naturally gifted.

Their conclusion was based on a landmark study that tracked intelligence and occupational accomplishments which showed that “a high level of intellectual ability gives you an enormous real-world advantage”. The professors added:

“None of this is to deny the power of practice. Nor is it to say that it’s impossible for a person with an average I.Q. to, say, earn a Ph.D. in physics. It’s just unlikely, relatively speaking. Sometimes the story that science tells us isn’t the story we want to hear.”

Brutal isn’t it? We’ve been brought up on the idea that if you applied yourself, you can achieve anything. Nobody wants to think they have limitations on what they can do and that how successful they will be in their profession has already been determined.

It certainly doesn’t inspire workers to be more diligent. What’s the point of work harder when you may not be rewarded?

But there are also other studies that suggest that tenacity and perseverance can definitely give you an edge against talented people. Research from psychologist Anders Ericsson suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in anything, but obviously other factors will play into just how far somebody can go. This is where determination and willpower comes in.

A Harvard University study that started in 1940 tracked the endurance and persistence of a group of students and found that people with the most strength of will were the ones who succeeded the most in business and in life.

It’s also worth noting that organisations are now moving away from hiring people purely based on academic credentials. Creativity, critical thinking and – you guessed it – determination.

I personally don’t think you can really say with certainly whether talent trumps determination or vice versa. There are many elements that come into the mix that can determine how successful a person will be in their career — and that includes luck. That is something that cannot be measured.

What are your thoughts on the talent versus determination debate? Do you have any examples you’ve seen in your line of work? Let us know in the comments.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


3 responses to “Talent Versus Hard Work: Which One Determines Career Success?”