#1454 Talent vs. Skill

Know the Difference

In our last +1, we learned how to politely and unapologetically say “NO!” to the smorgasborg of distraction by saying “YES!!” to what we KNOW we are here to do.

Today we’re going to continue our exploration of wisdom from Seth Godin’s great book, The Practice, as we focus on the difference between TALENT and SKILL.

Talent and skill may seem like the same thing but… They’re not.

We’d be wise to know the difference.

Here’s how Seth puts it…

“Talent is something we’re born with: it’s in our DNA, a magical alignment of gifts.

But skill? Skill is earned. It’s learned and practiced and hard-won.

It’s insulting to call a professional talented. She’s skilled, first and foremost. Many people have talent, but only a few care enough to show up fully, to earn their skill. Skill is rarer than talent. Skill is earned. Skill is available to anyone who cares enough.

If you put the effort into your practice, you will be rewarded with better. Better taste, better judgment, and better capabilities.

In the words of Steve Martin: ‘I had no talent. None.’”


👆 I repeat: Those are two VERY different things.

When I read that passage, I immediately thought of Angela Duckworth.

Duckworth, as you know if you’ve been following along, wrote the book on Grit. In her great book, Angela articulates the difference between TALENT and SKILL and describes the way they relate to each other.

She echoes Seth’s wisdom nearly perfectly when she tells us: “Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them.”

She sums that up with two equations to capture the relationship between talent and effort: “talent x effort = skill → skill x effort = achievement.”

She continues by saying: “What this theory says is that when you consider individuals in identical circumstances, what each achieves depends on just two things, talent and effort. Talent—how fast we can improve a skill—absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

As I typed that I thought of our 10-year-old son Emerson and the effort he’s currently putting into chess—which is leveraging some natural TALENT he has and leading to powerful gains in SKILL.

Quick context: Emerson recently got REALLY into chess. Over the last couple years, I taught him the basics—the importance of controlling the center, creating tempo and stuff like that. After a couple of years of casual play, he got good enough to beat everyone he played but me. Then we stumbled upon a group of adults who played chess at a park every Saturday.

He played with them, did surprisingly well and LOVED everything about it. One of the dads of the other kid who played with the adults told us about a site called ChessKid.com. (I HIGHLY recommend that site, btw!)


Emerson goes to nature school twice a week. When he’s not there, we homeschool him and give him a lot of autonomy with what he does.


He’s spent HOURS a day studying chess.

The EFFORT he put into leveraging his natural talent led to a higher level of skill.

The CONTINUED effort he put in multiplied by the skill he developed led to him consistently (and easily!) beating me within two months and to him winning the beginners group at the weekend adults tournament.

Moral of the story?

Find something you and/or your kids/clients/colleagues/etc. enjoy in which you might have some natural talent. And, put in the effort to develop skill. Put in MORE effort to maximize that skill and create achievements you’re proud of.

Remember: EFFORT counts TWICE.


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