brain_by_roonegIt’s common to think of top talent as people who are just plain smarter than the rest, the really bright people who stand out.  There are obviously some linkages, but they aren’t as hard and fast as they first appear.  Smart people who don’t really apply themselves can’t be classified as top talent.   There is also a case for different talents, not all of which are cognitive.  One reason for the interest in Daniel Goleman’s notion of emotional intelligence is because he explained how many top achievers differentiate themselves because of a particular form of social intelligence or personal mastery, not because of traditional measures of IQ or intelligence.

New discoveries in brain science seem to greet us almost every day.  How the mind and brain work is a fascinating field that just gets more interesting with each new discovery. 

We’re learning about different types of memory, the different regions of the brain where they are stored or accessed, how we process information both consciously and subconsciously, and how personality differences are reflected in distinct brain functions.

Some people seem born or endowed with special gifts or talents.  For them, applying their talents in a way that contributes is what makes them into top talent.  Can top talent be developed through sheer diligence in the absence of a special endowment?  It appears so.  Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers looked at research done on outstanding people and concluded that anyone could become an expert in anything by practicing for 10,000 hours.  What some would brand “obsession” may actually be one of the paths to learning something so well that you truly own it with a high level of mastery.

Everyone’s brain has an “executive function” that helps us to plan, organize and prioritize our actions.  Part of prioritizing is being able to shift our attention from one item to another or to keep from getting distracted or acting out habitual responses that would be counter-productive.  It appears that those people who we would call “top talent” are better able to exercise this executive function.  One interesting correlation to this is that bilingual or multilingual people seem to have more highly developed executive functioning in their brains.  They can monitor languages and keep them separate (part of the executive function), and they are better able to switch their attention when it’s necessary to learn something new.  I have witnessed this firsthand, first as a child in South America being exposed to Spanish, and as an adult in Asia learning Chinese.  Language learning seems to be one clear path to developing the executive function of the brain.

How do people arrive at the solution to knotty, complex problems without an obvious solution?  It seems very difficult to engineer or stage one of those “Eureka!” moments that leads to a breakthrough insight.  New research by Joydeep Bhattacharya and Bhavin Sheth makes the case that a person has to be in a particular state for insights to occur.  The processing of complex problems seems to occur most efficiently at a subconscious level, and Drs. Bhattacharya and Sheth showed that a flurry of subconscious brain activity often telegraphed a breakthrough even before a person became consciously aware of their breakthrough insights in a “light-bulb moment.”   The talent of solving complex or intractable problems seems to lie with those who stay with the problem and can fruitfully turn it over to their subconscious processing to arrive at a productive answer.

For some practical insights, look at the following resource:

John Medina has a great book out called Brain Rules.  I recommend you get a copy.  The free DVD that comes with the hardcover book is humorous and helps you really get the principles (he has 12 of them, some seem obvious, but others are really insightful).

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