Talent and the Mozart Myth – Douglas Kruger

Whatever your field of expertise, don’t you wish you had been born a Mozart? A child prodigy? A natural genius? Everything would be so much easier if it all just ‘came naturally’ to you.
Well, studies are repeatedly showing that birth isn’t the big deal it was once thought to be. Surprisingly, it seems success is not necessarily a matter of IQ. There are other answers available, and in fact, the old child prodigy idea is rapidly becoming redundant. Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor at Large for Fortune magazine, goes into a great deal of convincing detail on this topic in his book ‘Talent is Overrated.’
Okay, but what about Mozart?
If you’re feeling sceptical, let’s take a quick look at the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s. After all, he was the iconic Child Prodigy.
Here’s an overview:
– Wolfgang started composing his own music by the age of five.
– He began performing all over Europe, before crowned heads of state, by the age of eight.
– He wrote his first full-scale operas during his teens.
– He died by the age of 34, by which time he had become one of the greatest contributors to Western music of all time.
That’s not just impressive; it’s frankly staggering. For any of us in the business world practicing sales techniques, public speaking, writing, or just about any other skill, it’s a little depressing. To know that we are inherently ‘just not Mozart’ can be enough to stop us from even trying.
That’s where a little historical perspective might come in handy. Everything I’ve just stated about young Mozart is true. But there is more to the story.
For instance, did you know that Wolfgang’s father, Leopold Mozart, was a reasonably successful composer and performer long before Wolfgang was born, and that he studied – wait for it – How to teach music to children? Do you think that may have made a difference in young Wolfgang’s life? There’s more.
Leopold started Wolfgang on an intensive musical training programme at the age of three.
It is true that Wolfgang was composing his own music by age five, but it’s not quite as clear cut as that. In fact, what he was actually doing was re-arranging the compositions of famous composers in new and original patterns. And his Dad was writing it all down for him.
Let’s move on to his teenage years. It is absolutely true that he wrote his first full-scale operas while his peers were gazing awkwardly in the mirror and wishing someone had invented Oxycute. But it’s worth noting that the operas he wrote in his teens are not very well known today. The reason? Well, quite simply, they weren’t very good.
And again: Hmmm…
The first completely original composition that Wolfgang produced, which would go on to be considered ‘great’ was his Piano Concerto number 9. He wrote it at the tender age of 21. …after only 18 years of intensive training and practice!
Mozart was an overnight success. …after only two decades of practice.
This is not to diminish his achievements in any way. He was one of the greatest composers ever. It’s just that it took him a realistic, human and imitable period of time to get there. Otherwise put, it appears that Mozart’s level of success is entirely attainable, provided you’re willing to work that hard, and provided you have the right coaches and mentors.
So let’s not despair when our natural talent isn’t shining through after the first few months working on that new skill. It’s all about deliberate and sustained practice. And it can take years. Ask Wolfgang.

Douglas Kruger speaks on How to Develop Talent. To learn more about this 5 x winner of the Southern African Championships for Public Speaking and Author of ’50 Ways to Become a Better Speaker.

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