January 3rd, 2012
Natural talent isn’t hard to spot. We see it when someone walks up and accomplishes something with ease, something that we ourselves struggle with.
Look at any young and accomplished musician or artist. Or at those twenty-something sports stars. They are obviously talented.
Yet, how much of a role does their talent really play in what they do?
That 12-year-old pianist who is dazzling the audience with her Bach concertos – sure, she has talent. But look closely and you’ll see someone who has been practicing for years. She took classes and sat at the keyboard for hours every day.
While talent is something we’re born with, skills are something we pick up. Study hard, practice often, and given enough time, a person achieves mastery.
In design, this is certainly the case. I’ve met designers who demonstrated their stuff easily, but most of them did that after years of practice. They worked hard to learn the tools, to become literate in the ways of design. They always study the work of others, first by mimicking to master the technique, then adopting it to make it their own style.
It’s true that talent may get them to mastery faster. It might push their mastery beyond that of their peers.
Yet, everyone I’ve met who is really great (and I’ve met a lot of great designers), got there because they worked at it. It wasn’t natural.
Breadth of experience is another thing those great designers all share. Mixing up the projects, mixing up the teams they work with, mixing up the customers they design for – all that brings experience.
Every time they change something up, they have to re-evaluate what they believe to be true. They have to tweak their skills to the new environment. What used to work well now doesn’t work as well. They have to ask, “what do we need to do differently?”
Hang around me long enough and you’ll hear me utter one of my favorite aphorisms: “Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgements.” I’ve observed that great designers make smart decisions quickly. They have years of practice at making decisions. They have a breadth of experience. They can recognize important patterns. They constantly practicing their basic skills.
Don’t worry that you’re not talented enough: get out there anyways. Learn the skills. Practice them constantly. Change up your environment to gain new experiences. This is the path to being great.
Talent only differentiates us when we’ve already mastered skills and had a breadth of experiences. What separates the great designers from everyone else today isn’t their talent — it’s their skill and experience. Talent is the least important of those three attributes.Tweet