Episode 23


What is talent in creativity?

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Starting the discussion around talent in creativity and whether it's something you can control or just something you have or don't have.

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What is talent in creativity? The Positive Creatives Podcast episode 23.

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What is talent in creativity?

What is talent in creativity? Is it something you have or don’t have? Well kind of… let me tell you what I think about talent on this episode of The Positive Creatives!


Hello there and welcome back to The Positive Creatives, hosted by me, your friendly neighbourhood photographer from Manchester in England. I’m obsessed with trying to understand the creative process and help you live a more positive creative life by understanding it more too. So I hope it’s helping with that. And if it’s not helping with that, I hope it’s at least mildly entertaining. And if it’s not mildly entertaining… well… I don’t blame you if you go and find something better to do with your ten minutes a week!

I’m happy you’re here. I’ve said since the start that it’s not about the numbers for me, it’s about enjoying the process of having and making a podcast. But of course a podcast is kind of pointless without listeners, so by being here and listening you’re making my day without either of us even realising it!

As usual at the moment it got to Monday and I didn’t have an episode prepared in any way. I’ve been thinking for a few days about what I wanted to talk about this week. Sometimes I get an idea and I let it sink in and then I overthink it and mentally bin it before I get to the point of doing any research or making any notes.

I say sometimes, what I mean by that is I do that all the time and then it gets to Sunday or Monday and I’ve talked myself out of all my ideas.

But this week I decided pretty early on that I wanted to talk about talent and what is talent in creativity? I’ve done a bit of driving around this week and if you’ve listened to my previous episodes, especially episode 16, you’ll know I find I get into a good ideas zone in the car. So it was on a long drive that I started thinking about talent.

At first I thought it was just a good idea for a reel on my instagram (which is @thepositivecreatives by the way, I’d love you to give me a follow there). But then I realised I had a lot more to say about it than just 30 seconds, so here we are.

Talent is such a huge and heavy word in creativity, loaded with so much.

We tend to label ourselves as either talented or not. And other people tend to usually call us talented. Some people take talented as an insult, because it somehow undermines hard work and all that.

Just as an aside, I think it’s silly to get offended at anything when the other person means it as a compliment, but anyway…

Talent. How do you feel about this word? Would you describe yourself as talented? Do you feel uncomfortable when others describe you as talented? Do you maybe look at other artists and wonder how they’re so talented, or worse think you’ll never be as talented as them in a million years?!

I think we all do that sometimes.

But I want to tell you what I think of talent. And this isn’t based on any science or psychology or even research. It’s based purely on what I think, and my own experience.

Talent isn’t something you’re born with. It isn’t god given, it’s not in your genes or DNA. It’s not hereditary or anything like that.

Talent is made up of four key components.

And persistence.

I’m going to go through all four with you now because I think if you’re missing even one of the four, it falls over and doesn’t work.

I became a photographer age 29. Out of nowhere. I’d never thought of being a photographer, I didn’t grow up with any photographers in the family that I could look up to. I didn’t really have any creatives in the family to look up to.

My older brother is really good at drawing, and I remember him showing me a lot of pencil drawings that I found impressive as a child.

My only creativity growing up was being a very average piano player, and a very average tenor horn player in a brass band at school. That’s it.

So to find photography at age 29 was something of a miracle for me. I still don’t really know where it came from but I do know that it started like it starts for all of us, whatever age it starts, and that’s with passion.

Passion is the foundation for everything. Passion is what kickstarts everything we do. Passion is at the root of talent. Without passion we wouldn’t do anything.

Think back and remember feeling that excitement when you first got started and realised you liked what you were able to create… that’s what created the passion you had then and hopefully still have now.

Without passion there would be nothing for your talent to grow out of. So passion is the first cornerstone of talent.

The next cornerstone of creative talent is learning.

Learning is easy when you’re passionate and know nothing, because everything you find out is new and ignites more passion which fuels more desire for learning.

Think back again, and remember just how many books you bought or how many hours you spent browsing websites or youtube in those early days, desperate to soak up as much information and knowledge as you could about this creative thing you were so passionate about.

Now think about now and how much time you spend doing the same? I bet it’s not much. I know for me it’s not much and nowhere near enough. And it’s been even worse while I’ve been teaching a lot for the last few years. Almost as if teaching and learning are hard to do at the same time and part of the reason why I’ve turned my back on teaching for a while.

Because this thing happens as we get better at our craft. We start to feel like there’s less to learn, so we lose a bit of that insatiable thirst for knowledge that we had in those early days.

Maybe this is because we get busy, we get clients who want to pay us, we get a lot of work and there’s just not as much time for learning.

Or maybe, and this is dangerous, we think we know all we need to know.

For our talent to grow and keep growing and evolving, we need to understand that constant learning is vital. Realising that we can never and will never know everything there is to know. Understanding that new knowledge and new information is what will keep us feeling fresh and fulfilled.

So that’s the first two major cornerstones of talent – passion and learning.

The next cornerstone is practice.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. We know this because as I said in episode 4, perfect is a concept that doesn’t exist in creativity. But practice does make progress. Yes it’s a cliche, but it’s incredibly true, and I don’t mind a cliche when it’s as true as this one!

If you’re a busy, working creative with a business and clients then you need to separate practice from working as much as you can. Working is practice for sure, but it’s often practice on someone else’s terms. When I talk about practice as a cornerstone of talent, I mean practice on your terms as often as is possible for you.

Purposeful practice, as often as possible, with as much variety as possible and as close to the edges of your comfort zone as possible is what will nurture your talent and help it grow continually.

Here’s an analogy for you.

If passion is the soil, and learning is the seeds, practice is you watering the seeds to help them grow.

It’s cheesy but it’s true and who doesn’t love an analogy.

The next cornerstone of talent is persistence and this is a big one, always underrated and rarely spoken about.

Persistence on a very basic level is not quitting when things feel rough. Persistence is putting your work out into the world even when you doubt it. Persistence is silencing those inner voices of imposter syndrome and ego at both extremes.

Persistence is creating when it’s easier not to, learning even when your ego is telling you there’s more to learn, and sticking at it even when you feel like your passion has deserted you.

I’m not sure where persistence fits in the soil, seeds and water analogy though. If you think of something, drop me a DM on instagram!

So you see talent in my opinion has nothing to do with DNA or magic and is entirely under our control. Everyone you see who you’d describe as talented is combining passion, learning, practice and persistence all the time.

Ok maybe there are people out there with some sort of natural talent. They’re the outliers and we can’t learn much from those people, but most of us need to consistently work at our talent. And I think it’s absolutely possible to create your own talent and nurture it yourself.

I also know that when I feel my own standards slipping I can always without fail point to one of these cornerstones of passion, learning, practice and persistence and one or more of them I’ll have let slip recently.

A lot of the time it’s like spinning plates, and sometimes it’s hard to keep them spinning. Right now, as we come hopefully out of the other side of this pandemic I know my passion is still there, possibly more than ever, but my learning and practice has been almost non-existent for the last 15 months. My passion for photography will absolutely be what kickstarts me as things begin to open up, but I can’t rely on that for long and I need to get back to regular learning and practice.

I’m also ready and waiting for the good old creative process to kick in and bring with it those periods of doubt, of questioning myself and that’s when I’ll be ready and waiting with persistence to push through and keep going.

I hope all this helps you think of talent in a totally different way, as something you have total control of as opposed to something that some people just have and others just don’t. With this mindset you can only get more talented over time, thanks to a new found awareness of the structure of talent and your complete influence over it.

Here are your listen, read and watch recommendations for the week to come…

Listen – a podcast called Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. A friend sent me Season 1 Episode 5 which is called Hallelujah and then I listened to a good few more episodes. It’s one of those you need to pay attention to, but give it a listen, it’s full of absolute gold, as you’d expect from the legendary Malcolm Gladwell.

Read – The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle. I’ve recommended his other book The Talent Code before, so if you’ve not managed to read that, start there. But if you’ve read that, The Little Book of Talent is a good follow up read.

Watch – A short animation on Netflix called Canvas that I stumbled across yesterday. Quite a touching take on loss of and refinding inspiration. Only 9 minutes long so give that a watch this week.

Alrighty then! Thanks for listening, join me on instagram if you feel like it, stick around and listen to any episodes you’ve not heard yet, and come back next week for the next episode of The Positive Creatives!

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