A few days ago, I was watching a YouTube video in which Harsha Bhogle philosophically described how talent is one of the most ‘useless’ things to possess at the highest levels of companies. He justified his illuminating revelation by drawing comparisons between Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, two childhood friends who strove to succeed at cricket, a sport Bhogle is paid to speak about. While the latter, though much talked about for his ethereal hard-hitting abilities, faded from the stage after a string of short-lived, on-and-off successes, the former achieved god-like status in sports considered a religion in a country of a billion people. . Bhogle attributed HIS success to the work ethic HE has for the game.
Now maybe HIS work ethic, HIS love of the game, HIS adaptability at some point overshadowed HIS talent, but one can reasonably argue that Kambli was talented as well, if not as talented as Sachin, (although he was touted as the next generation superstar ahead of Sachin in his early days), then certainly more than most contemporary cricketers he played alongside, by safe assumption. (However, I’m afraid talent can never be accurately quantified and scaled.) But still, Kambli remained a mortal and Sachin became the most adored sports star ever, considering his huge following. Somewhere, Sachin’s perseverance and work ethic made up for the lag in his talent, if there was any. Louis Pasteur once stated that his success rested solely on his tenacity. Einstein declared that the only reason he could find the solutions to the mysteries of quantum physics was that he spent more time on 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 exactly talent is. Talent is the innate ability of an individual to perform a task in some field or activity with much more skill than the majority of the population. So if you can solve a big quantitative problem in the classroom faster than your peers with the same level of preparation and attention received by your mentor with some creative mental bent, it’s all about talent. Now, is there talent? Does nature really discriminate between its children? I would say that talent is not just a state of mind. Exists. I’m not sure if it’s some form of discrimination or not, but the aphorism: “We are all born originals, but most of us die copies.” Can you help us explain it better? Nature does not like to make clones.
The forces of nature are also not aligned in such a way that all of its siblings receive the same type of nutrition and organic environment. So each of us is endowed with some or the other skill sets that make us naturally experts in certain areas. We are not always lucky enough to discover the arena in which it is bestowed on us. Even if we do, we rarely dare to exploit it in the midst of so many systems in which we are chained. Capitalism further creates complications as certain talents receive more monetary attention. So we try to ‘create’ talent in ourselves. Can talent be created? I would say no and yes. No matter how hard humanity tries, it cannot emulate nature in terms of excellence. Country perseverance goal. Working harder than those naturally gifted people can pay dividends. It may not ‘create’ talent, but it certainly builds what we call aptitude.
Now, coming to the first question, does talent help? We would assume that Kambli was more talented than Sachin, as reiterated by his guru Ramakanth Achrekar and others. Now Bhogle pointed out that Kambli played his last Test Match at the age of twenty-two (perhaps 24 or 25, say twenty). He was stumped with Courtney Walsh and he didn’t know what to do because up to that moment his talent had opened all the doors for him. So has the talent turned out to be his downfall? I am too limited by my knowledge to assume that Kambli’s initial success dazzled him with the glamor and attention he received and his subsequent arrogance diverted him from doing what he did best. But his talent didn’t get him very far. In stark contrast, Sachin did not enjoy much success on his first tour (to exaggerate, one can visualize Sachin with a bloody nose).
Also, while the world knew they were seeing someone special, he had to wait 69 (or maybe 70?) matches for his first one-day century. Since then, Sachin has enjoyed enviable success across all game formats, but the best has always come after setbacks, be it injury or a slump in form. Unlike Kambli, he never forgot his work ethic and remained as calm as a monk in search of sublime enlightenment. What champion won’t break down when he’s booed and plastic bottles are thrown at him by his own crowd? (Remember Wankhede when he was going through the most depressed phase of his career?). But amid much astonishment from his fans and criticism from all quarters, Sachin maintained a Zen-like calm and encouraged the fact that he would give even the Phoenix a chance for his ability to revitalize himself. So I’m assuming talent didn’t help Kambli get places because he didn’t remain a student of the game like Sachin did. The talent made him too rigid and dependent, while Sachin adapted to the way things changed. You don’t have to be a Darwinian to know how important adaptation is to success.
I am now too illiterate in terms of cricket, but I am told that he stopped playing some of his signature shots entirely after his career-threatening tennis elbow injury. Can talent let us enjoy such a luxury? If you love, for example, number theory, can it be easy for you to teach Shakespeare? Yes, it can, but for that you have to be Sachin Tendulkar, or at least have his determination and tenacity. Talent will make your life easier at first and make you relaxed. It won’t give him a taste of failure, and therefore, when he reaches higher levels, he won’t possess the ex factor that Sachin possesses: the ability to bounce back.