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Talent v.

Training: Using Learning Curves

to Examine the Extent to which Effort can
Overcome a Lack of Talent
Talent in literature review
Simple repetition is a necessary condition for progress but a great deal
more is necessary as well. Mastery in a field requires innate ability, an
eagerness to work and doing a great deal of very laborious work. It is
also believed that heredity played an important role, with successful
people often having successful ancestors.
There are ways of measuring performance in a wide variety of fields,
ELO ratings for chess players, Watkins-Farnum for music sight-reading,
GPA for students. None of these are direct measures of talent.
To measure Talent acurately is almost impossible task. Talent is a
qualitative attribute of human beings and there are debates to quantify
it for the purpose of its measurement.
For the purpose of this analysis, our proxy for talent will be Learning
Rate. While one cannot say exactly how talented a person with an
75% learning rate is, it is easy to argue that they are more talented
than another person with a 85% learning rate. Faster learning
suggests more talent.
There are two views that may or may not be in conflict :

One states that, with enough hard work,around 10000 hours of

focused practice, that anyone can be good at anything.

The other suggests that everyone has some special talent, and
that it is just a matter of finding it.

The idea that everyone has talent was put forward by Buckingham
and Clifton after examining over 2 million surveys gathered by The
Gallup Organization over a 30 year period they posit that everyone is
capable of doing something better than the next 10,000 people.
Maxwell combines these ideas with the speculation that if ones ability
is measured on a 1 to 10 scale, that whatever a persons initial score
on a given ability, effort can raise that score by 2 points. If you initially
score a 7 in a particular area, effort will allow you to rise to a 9.

Maxwell claims that effort in the right area will take you from being
better than the next 10,000 people to being better than the next
100,000. The question then becomes how much effort?
Coyle also argues that deep practice is not the same as simple
repetition. Deep practice occurs at the edge of ones ability, not
in the routine performances of a task. Pilots learn how to fly in bad
weather by flying in real of simulated bad weather, not by flying on
warm sunny days. They learn by trying, failing, and trying again.
This argues that it is not simply the accumulated hours of
practice but also the nature of practice in those hours.

Learning Curves and Adaptations of the Model

The basic learning curve model as it exists in modern text books looks
like the following:
(l o g (l ea r ni n g r a t e)/l o g(2))

T i me n=T i me 1n

nt h

x or n is the

unit produced.

y or

T i me n

is the time required for the

nt h

a or

T i me 1

is the time required for the


Learning Rate is the learning rate.

b is (log(learning rate)/log(2)).



For our purposes, the model will become:

P e r f o r m a n c en=P e r f o r ma n c e 1n(l o g (T a l en t )/l o g (2))

x or n is the

hour of practice.

y or

hours of practice.
P e r f o r m a n c e1
a or

P e r f o r m a n c en

here to 100.

Performance Score attained by the

nt h

is the initial Performance Score, standardized

b is log(Talent)/log(2) where Talent is the analog of the learning


The vertical axis in a learning curve represents time necessary to

produce the n
unit, with faster production times being preferred to
slower times.
For this model, we are recasting the speed of production to an arbitrary
general measure of performance ability. The Performance Score is
structured with P1 = 100 and lower numbers being preferred.
The learning rate will serve as a proxy for an individuals level of
One other change has been made in the presentation of this model.
The usual horizontal access is in units produced. Instead of casting this
in hours practiced, we will cast this in the passing of calendar time.
This is an important difference in our representation of the data. This
allows us to compare the progress that subjects have made over
comparable time periods when the effort expended in those time
periods is not the same.

Simulations and Comparisons

In order to examine the relationship between talent and effort, we will
simulate learning by students with differing levels of talent and
differing practice habits.We will assume that the average learner learns
at an 80% rate. Based on the findings of the researchers, we will use
72% as the learning rate of a very talented individual and 86% for a
relatively untalented individual.

Simulation : Equal Talent with Unequal Time

The model : y = ax^b
Now, equal Talent is 80% or .8
b= log(.8)/log(2)
## [1] -0.3219281

Therefore, b is -0.3219281.

Case 1
a = 100 and x= 20 ( i.e. 20 hours of practice)
y= 100 * 20^-0.3219281

## [1] 38.12079

Therefore, Time required for


unit is 38.12079

Case 2
a = 100 and x= 45( i.e. 45 hours of practice)
y= 100 * 45^-0.3219281
## [1] 29.36192

Therefore, Time required for

nt h

unit is 29.36192

Case 3
a = 100 and x= 90( i.e. 90 hours of practice)
y= 100 * 90^-0.3219281
## [1] 23.48954

Therefore, Time required for

nt h

unit is 23.48954

So, the conclusion is, if the employees are in the same Talent level,
one who has more training, takes lesser time to perform the n