Good article from the Boston Globe about a study on "grit", but one caveat

Friday, August 14, 2009

You can read the article here. If you've ever read any of Malcolm Gladwell's recent books you may recognize the theme - people certainly vary in terms of intelligence, but in order to succeed at something it always takes a certain something called grit in this study, which refers to the ability to make a long-term goal and stick with it. In general it's a good article on a subject that deserves more attention, but there is one part you need to pay attention to, and that's this one:

because it's not always the case that sticking with a single goal or subject will lead to success in a field. One example is translation. Very general translation can be done by simply learning another language, learning it well, and then training oneself to translate back and forth between the two until it becomes quite natural (note that simply knowing a language doesn't necessarily imply being able to translate between this one and another you might know), but translation is very often done in specialized fields, where the sharing of knowledge between languages is crucial. This means chemistry, astronomy, religion, archaeology, etc., and those that are capable of translating for these fields are always those that have worked in them for years. You could be perfectly fluent in English for example and not know what a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon is, and if you are tasked with translating a whole paper filled with terms like this without knowing anything about chemistry then you've been given a nearly impossible task.

In a case like this then, the person that dives ahead into Language X and neglects to diversify by doing chemistry and Language X is studying in too narrow a field.

Naturally, flitting from one subject to another (the other extreme) is not a good idea either.

So what is the best way to go about this? Try seeing if you can combine two subjects you are interested in together. If you are studying chemistry and German, then study chemistry in German. If it's music and programming, then work on writing a program that complements this (how about something like this?). In fact, a person who studies music alone and is lacking in computer proficiency is probably at a disadvantage compared to someone that has put in the time to learn both - without the required computer knowledge it's hard to promote oneself. Ken Robinson has also said the following about creativity: "Creativity more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things."

I'll put the talk he gave at Ted below.

So read the article and read about the study, but don't infer that implies a simple formula where specialization in one field alone is the key to success. A certain amount of branching out is also a good thing.


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