Few days ago I was going through a video on YouTube in which Harsha Bhogle philosophically went on to describe how talent is one of the most ‚useless‘ of all things to possess at higher echelons of corporate. He substantiated his enlightening disclosure by drawing comparisons between Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, two childhood pals who strived to make it big in cricket, a sport Bhogle is paid to talk about. While the latter, although much talked of his ethereal hard-hitting skills, vanished from the stage after a series of ephemeral and intermittent success, the former attained the status of God in the sport considered as a religion in a country of a billion people. Bhogle attributed HIS success to the work-ethics HE has for the game.
Now maybe HIS work-ethics, HIS love for game, HIS adaptability somewhere down the line overshadowed HIS talent, but one can reasonably argue that Kambli was talented as well, if not as much as Sachin, (though he was touted as the next generation superstar ahead of Sachin in their early days) then certainly more than most of the contemporary cricketers he played with by safe assumption. (Though, I fear that talent can never be quantized and scaled precisely). But still Kambli remained a mortal and Sachin went on to become the most worshipped sport-star ever, if one goes by sheer number of followers. Somewhere, Sachin’s perseverance and work-ethics made up for the lag in talent of his, if any. Louis Pasteur once affirmed that his success solely lied in his tenacity. Einstein declared that the only reason he could come up with the solutions to the mysteries of quantum physics was that he spent more time with the problems.
One can reasonably rationalize that not everyone can be Sachin, Pasteur or Einstein. So does talent help? Before we explore the solution, let’s try to define what talent exactly is. Talent is the innate ability of an individual to perform a task in some field or activity with much more adeptness than most of the populace. So if you can solve a mighty quant problem in the classroom faster than your peers with the same level of preparation and attention received by your mentor with some creative bent of mind, it has got to do with the talent. Now does talent exist? Does nature really discriminate between her children? I’d say talent is not just a state of mind. It exists. Not sure if it is any form of discrimination or not but the aphorism: „We all are born originals but most of us die copies.“ can help us explain it better. Nature does not like to make clones.
Nor are forces of nature aligned in such a manner that every sibling of her receives same kind of nutrition and organic environment. So, each one of us is indeed endowed with some or other skill-sets which make us naturally adept in certain arenas. We are not always fortunate enough to figure out the arena we are bestowed in. Even if we do, we rarely dare enough to exploit it in the midst of so many systems we are shackled in. Capitalism further creates complications as certain talents get more monetary attention. So we try to ‚create‘ talent in ourselves. Can talent be ever created? I’d say no and yes. No matter how hard mankind tries, it can’t emulate nature in terms of excellence. But perseverance pays. Working harder than those naturally-gifted people can give you dividends. It may not ‚create‘ talent but certainly builds what we call aptitude.
Now coming to the first question, does talent help? We’d go by the assumption that Kambli was more talented than Sachin as iterated by their guru Ramakanth Achrekar and others. Now Bhogle pointed out that Kambli played his last Test Match at the age of twenty-two (maybe at 24 or 25, let’s say in his early twenties). He was perplexed by Courtney Walsh and didn’t know what to do because till then talent had opened all doors for him. So did talent prove out to be bane for him? I am too much limited by my knowledge to assume that Kambli’s initial success made him bedazzled by the glamour and attention he received and the subsequent arrogance of his swayed him from doing what he was best at doing. But his talent did not take him far. In stark contrast, Sachin didn’t enjoy much success in his first tour.( To exaggerate, one can visualize Sachin with the bleeding nose.)
Also, though the world knew they were watching someone special, he had to wait 69 (or maybe 70?) matches for his first one day century. Since then Sachin has enjoyed enviable success in all formats of games but his best have has always come after setbacks, whether it were injuries or plunge in form. Unlike Kambli, he never forgot his work-ethics and stayed as calm as a monk in search of sublime enlightenment. Which champion will not break down by getting booed and plastic-bottles thrown at him by his own home-crowd? (Remember Wankhede when he was going through the most slump-phase of his career?). But amid several dropped-jaws of his fans and criticisms from every corner, Sachin maintained a Zen like calmness and enlivened his craft that would give even the Phoenix a run for his ability to reinvigorate himself. So I assume that talent didn’t help Kambli go places because he didn’t remain a student of the game like Sachin did. Talent made him too rigid and dependent while Sachin adapted the way things changed. You don’t need to be a Darwinist to know how important adaptation is for success.
Now I am too illiterate of cricketing terms, but I am told that he completely stopped playing some signature stroke of his after his career-threatening tennis-elbow injury. Can talent let us enjoy such luxury? If you love say Number Theory, can it be easy for you make life out of teaching Shakespeare? Yes it can, but for that you got to be Sachin Tendulkar, or at least possess his single-mindedness and tenacity. Talent will make your life easy initially and will make you lax. It won’t give you the taste of failure and hence when you reach higher echelons, you won’t possess the ex factor which Sachin possesses: the ability to bounce back.