Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Matthew Syed, columnist for The Times of London and a commentator for the BBC, explores our competitive nature. He explains why some people thrive under pressure while others choke and considers the value of innate talent versus practice, hard work, and will. His book Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success looks at what the nature of competition reveals about biology and economics, psychology and culture, genetics and race, and sports and politics.


Matthew Syed,

Comments [27]

Kimi from Brooklyn

Great interview! Mr. Syed is sharp & articulate--I look forward to reading his book, full of interesting science and ideas. It's the artist's mind that creates the art; artists have an original, often peculiar way of thinking. To express these original ideas, the artist has to hone his or her craft, which is where practice comes in. For some artists, even thinking can be a form of practice, a continuation of the artistic process. Writers, painters, and musicians rehearse ideas. Some people have commented here on musicians who excel, with only minimal practice. But practice can be done mentally, as well as physically. Not every practice session is equal, even for the same individual. So it stands to reason that some individuals might have learned how to pack each practice session with more wallop. Keep it green, is my experience.

Apr. 21 2010 01:57 AM
anonyme from ny

#19 from qns- I think Duchamp's commentary does have its place, especially given its time - and it gave permission to artists who followed him to widen boundaries, like so many of his contemporaries - I do agree that the highly commodified art that is so current tends to be gimmicky - but I don't think that's where art (per se) is, I suspect that there is plenty of art underground that doesn't attract the same people who buy the gimmicks (or are sold them) or get wide exposure - but exposure isn't really validation. I looked at some art books from the 60s - a traveling exhibit catalogue - lasting artists are represented, but they are a minority in a sea of work by others not at all outstanding - or belonging only to their time.

Apr. 20 2010 02:23 PM
Leon J. Taub from Valley Stream

The following is a quote from Alfred Adler, (1929), one of the founders of contemporary social psychology:

"The theory of heredity must never be emphasized in education or in the theory and practice of psychology. Except in cases of sub-normal children, it is proper to assume that everyone can do everything necessary. This is not, of course,to deny the differences of inherited material, but what is important is always the use which is made of it."

Apr. 20 2010 01:58 PM
Henry Langan from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Who would have thought that Ted Williams' .406 batting average would remain intact since 1941, knowing that today we have computers and slow motion cameras to study the throws made by todays pitchers? What did he know about hitting a baseball that hasn't been discovered yet? My theory is that the new baseball players are "coached" and 'taught" by former ballplayers who never achieved Williams' skills either, so what can they know that needs to be taught to a kid that's worthwhile.
Baseball is a science which requires physicists to become involved. A sphere being hit by a cylinder is science and should include their input. What do you think?

Apr. 20 2010 01:02 PM
Tonero Williams from Brooklyn

Another great interview Leonard. You touched on many ideas in Mr. Syed book, in a short time.
Practice makes perfect, when it comes to you.

Apr. 20 2010 12:52 PM
Danny from East Village

I think Tom from UWS hit it on the head - a key element is *will*, which among other things supplies the persistence. Will coupled with the right kind of intelligence (persistence and stamina coupled with the ability to figure out the right way to practice) is bound to result in greatness.

Apr. 20 2010 12:46 PM
James from NY, NY

KJ Choi started playing golf at age 19 and is now one of the best in the world.

Apr. 20 2010 12:45 PM
Joel Friedland from Forest Hills

Leonard is not competitive at card games, but he is very competitive about some things, perhaps not consciously so. He is far and away the best interviewer of visual artists around. It's hard to find anyone who does such interviews on radio and TV and hardly any such interviews in general interest magazines and newspapers. When you do hear or read such interviews, they are nowhere near as good as the interviews that he does.

Apr. 20 2010 12:40 PM
tom from qns

Dechamp is the perfect example of how twisted and short-sighted is our contemporary art market. DuChanmp is anti-art, a maker of statements, a trouble maker supreme. There is no record of great achievement, Mr. Syed didn't even study him -- if he is removed from the context of the art world. Picasso was in fact highly trained and a true genius of visual art. Today's art world loves the temporary, shallow, clever conceptualism of DuChamp. It is a superficial art world -- Thank God it is about to change.

Apr. 20 2010 12:37 PM
Megan from Brooklyn

Although, Shenk's book is specifically about GENIUS...interesting to discuss if high levels of competitive instinct (coupled with loads of practice) leads to GENIUS. Or, is competition, an irrelevant factor in becoming a "genius"?

Apr. 20 2010 12:34 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Leonard Marcel Duchamp is more important in America. The European art community those not regard Mr. Duchampt with high regard, quite the opposite.

Apr. 20 2010 12:33 PM
Megan from Brooklyn

OK, now that you mention chess, I'm very surprised that you haven't mentioned David Shenk's latest book, "The Genius in All of Us" recently featured on PRI's The Takeaway:

Tackles the same topics as Syed in a very approachable way.

Apr. 20 2010 12:29 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Sometimes there is a genetic advantage. I don't have time to look it up, but there's a long-distance runner who turned out to have some difference in the chemistry of his muscles, so they use oxygen more efficiently & he doesn't get as fatigued as most runners.

Apr. 20 2010 12:29 PM
Connie from NJ

Marcel Duchamp never stopped making art--he spent many years working secretly on an installation, which is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Apr. 20 2010 12:29 PM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

That difference in success is called TALENT. People do have talent or aptitude for a particular task. Of course without practice, a talented person may not reach the same level of achievement -- even against a less talented person who works very hard. But in looking at what makes a particular person reach the top of his field, I believe talent -- a talent for some aspect of that achievement -- makes the difference.

Apr. 20 2010 12:28 PM
mer from Manhattan

My father was a music teacher, and he used to say "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."

Apr. 20 2010 12:25 PM
Tom Abbott from Brooklyn

I always say: practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent.

Apr. 20 2010 12:25 PM
tom from uws

I definitely believe that work creates genius. However there is another key ingredient: attraction. No matter how much you practice, if you do not have or develop a passionate desire for the skill or art, you won't become a true virtuoso.

Apr. 20 2010 12:24 PM
M from Brooklyn

I would only echo what was written before me. There are too many cases of expertise "immediately" out of the embryo. I think the paradigm he explains runs parallel to genius, but doesn't replace it.

The author won't concede that some people's brains come out already formed for genius while possibly others arrive there through constant repetition.

Apr. 20 2010 12:23 PM
Michael Bennett from Poughkeepsie

Who was that Florida State University researcher Syed mentioned maybe five minutes ago now?

Apr. 20 2010 12:23 PM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

So the premise is anyone can become the best at a particular thing -- playing an instrument, a sport, etc. -- by putting in hours and hours of practice? Regardless of talent or apptitude? So two people putting in the same amount of effort at learning a musical instrument -- one having a reasonable ear (not perfect pitch) and one being tone deaf (there is such a thing) will progess equally and achieve the same success? Or would the tone deaf person have to put in twice as much effort? And who puts in effort when the difficulties are so great? Part of the reason people do put in the effort is because there is postive feedback in the form of sucess. And hardly anyone loves hours and hours of practicing -- even Mozart hated to practice.

Apr. 20 2010 12:23 PM
Frank Grimaldi from EV NYC

How does age play into Matthew Syed's theory? Whether starting as a musician or artist at 20, 30 or 50?

Apr. 20 2010 12:21 PM
James from New York

Is it ever too late to become a virtuoso in an art or sport? People often say, "I'm to old to start abc xyz." Or "you're too old to become an abc xyz?"

Apr. 20 2010 12:20 PM
reuven from cincinnati

This seems overly simplistic. There are many gifted musicians and artists who never practice but just play. Gifted children are just wired differently. I tell kids who struggle but promise to work harder that there just isn't that much time in a life span, not to be mean but to be sincere. I also believe that you can quantify just about anything.

Apr. 20 2010 12:18 PM
sophia canellos from new rochelle

I don't see how Tiger Woods is equivalent to Mozart, a better comparison would be to someone like Horowitz, both are performance based, neither have much to do with creativity.

Apr. 20 2010 12:18 PM
David from UWS, NYC

At Juilliard, there were magnificent players who almost never practiced, while there were students who practiced all day and could not measure up.

Apr. 20 2010 12:17 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Mendelssohn wrote absolute masterpieces in his young teens. He wrote the Overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at age 17.

Apr. 20 2010 12:14 PM

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