Although Mozart had the ability to connect a specific note to any kind of sound, he was not necessarily born with perfect pitch. Because more people have the ability to recreate musical notes In countries where language uses tone for meaning, researchers have concluded the skill is teachable.
Where are we going? To the importance of grit.
The Best Spellers
At the 2015 National Spelling Bee competition, the winning words were scherenschnitte and nunatak. Instead of just one, two words ended the contest because after 25 final rounds they had a tie. (Scherenschnitte or “scissor cuts” refers to paper cutting design while a nunatak is a hill or ridge surrounded by but not covered by ice.)
Preparing for a national spelling competition, you might have played word games, been quizzed, or plowed through lists of vocabulary. One study suggests the most effective method is the third. Solitary disciplined practice with specifically ascending goals had the best results. One researcher calls the approach deliberate practice framework.
The Best Violinists
At the Music Academy of West Berlin, it was possible to predict which violinist would become a music teacher, who would ascend to a symphony orchestra, and who would become famous. The key appeared to be solo practice. Among 30 Academy students, all started at 8-years old, by age 15 all wanted to become musicians, and all averaged 50.6 hours a week doing school-related practicing. The difference was what they did alone. Those who spent the most time practicing purposefully on their own were destined for fame. Like the spelling bee kids, solitary practice made the difference.
Our Bottom Line: Grit
The willingness to push yourself beyond an existing level of expertise through a consistent and potentially unpleasant practice pattern has helped musicians, chess players and athletes break through performance barriers. It works though only in activities that involve an articulated objective that someone can aim for and then surpass.
Like me, you might be thinking, but what about creativity? As one Scientific American blog tells us, creativity leads us into unknown territory that can be messy, involve broad interests and require experimentation. Rather than deliberate practice, it takes a different kind of grit.
Different kinds of grit make human capital better. Composed of knowledge and skill, better human capital motivates others to take the next step. As economists we can say that better human capital creates the positive externalities that can ripple far beyond where they began.