What is the difference between skill and talent?

I was just reading my Myers-Briggs profile. I am convinced that I was born without whatever innate social skills most people are born with, my parents aren’t the most popular people, I am an only child – and was a sickly one and so had to be at home a lot. What a constellation. The house pet we had was a cat, so that was of no help (except understanding that being cute leads to cuddles). However, I pursue social skills – watch people who are charismatic and have gravitas, read about it, think about it and pay attention. Fundamentally, I think social skills are about paying attention to the people you are with.


I think Johnny Depp is one of the most charismatic people on the planet. There are plenty of people who are even better looking that Mr Depp. In fact, he looks sort of niche, sort of ethnic, even though he’s not. Why do men, women and children swoon after him? I think it’s down to the way he acts – make sure that everyone around him feels good. Perpetually self-depricating and vulnerable. I believe that this too is an act – after all, he is a phenomenal actor. Having watched a huge number of interviews with him, I’ve noticed a few hints at the value he puts on being liked. So, he’s not just a genuine guy with a beautiful face – he’s a genius psychologist. Tip: if you want to see an interview with someone, check if Larry King interviewed that person – he is exceptional at getting people to open up.

Back to Myers-Briggs. As an ENTP, I cannot handle repetitive tasks and routine. If there are no decisions to be made, no alternative routes to be explored – I get bored. Then I thought of the cliche – repetition is the mother of skill. So… does this mean I am going to be useless? I think not. Ray Dalio is a well-known ENTP who is particularly outspoken about what he believes. He says that you can always get other people to do the *doing*, but you have to the one doing the *thinking*. Is thinking a skill? Am I good at it because I do it so much? Thinking, done right, certainly does not feel repetitive. Is it a talent?

Talent is something you are born with. Skill is something you acquire. I don’t think anybody ever taught me to or encouraged me tho think, yet it happens anyway. So maybe, skill is something we don’t inherently want to do. Entropy is always going against skill. Skill benefits from volatility and change, for sure, but within pretty narrow limits. Talent, I think, is far more antifragile, gaining new incarnations as the world around us changes.

3 thoughts on “What is the difference between skill and talent?”

  1. I wrote a post, here on WordPress, in 2011 about education. One of my favorite educators and promoters of recognizing and developing skill in a child is Ralph Waldo Emerson, and to some degree was well, especially in his “Seven Lesson School Teacher’ from john Taylor Gatto.

    I grew up in a xenophobic religion – the Mormon religion; raised by an extremely xenophobic and over-bearing father, in the South.

    Now, if that’s not a recipe for a redneck milkshake, a recipe simply doesn’t exist.

    Although I didn’t understand why at the time, I detested where I grew up; I despised almost every aspect of it, mostly due to the atmosphere created by the people who lived there. Yet; until I was 19, I had never been outside the confines of the state lines to even understand why I hated it.

    At the time (1971), the Church refused to allow black people to fully participate in the religion. Oh; they would gleefully accept their “tithing”, but full participation was out of the question – full participation meaning they could not participate in the Church’s “priesthood”.

    I had grown severely weary of the same absurd answer to my question’ “why”; the answer to which was, without waver; “because they aren’t ready for the responsibility”.

    I certainly didn’t understand why, but I felt there was something amiss in this philosophy, and all the other pad answers to the plethora of other questions I had about that faith and all others.

    But; being a good little Mormon boy, I dutifully obeyed my father when he demanded that I give two years of my life to “promulgating the truth.” However; I was NOT a typical Mormon boy. In fact; I was not much for religion of any kind and was a rowdy kid to say the least, so the following two years was not, in any ways, she or form, a typical missionary experience – about as far from it as open could imagine.

    I figured, “if I’m going to do this, I might as well get something out of it,” so I told the Church in their pre-mission questionnaire that Southern California was where I wanted to go as a missionary (an effort not at all unlike telling a military recruiter what you wanted to do in the military). I was born in San Diego during the Korean War when my father was still in the Navy and always wanted to discover what 1960s and 70s California was about – women, sun, fun” and all the rest of the attributes those outside CA thought it was all about.

    To my amazement, and the sheer befuddlement of virtually every other missionary I encountered then and after, that’s where they sent me. A “bigly” mistake on their part, according to Trump.

    The first step to a missionary’s journey is always a place called “the mission home” in Salt Lake City, Utah, where we’re instructed as missionaries on everything from what forks to use for salads while eating in other church members’ homes, to how to proselytize, how to dress, how to “manage our time”, etc.

    During a group of lectures in this “mission home”, one of the highest ranking members of the Church, they call them “Apostles”, came to address us. In his address, he made a remark that, even though I knew existed, struck me like a speeding train.

    Here was one of the highest ranking members in the Church telling us, and I remember every single word as if it had happened seconds ago instead of 46 years ago. “If, during your door-to-door proselytizing efforts, you encounter an black person, you are to change from proselytizers to survey-takers and you are to ask one question only. That question being; have you ever heard of the Mormon Church?” In this manner, either a yes or a no gave us a way to simply say thank you and leave.

    I knew that was their doctrine, I grew up with it, and heard it frequently repeated. However; to hear it in the words of another human being, spoken in such cold, matter-of-fact terms, with absolutely no hesitation and as calmly as if he was telling us the time of day; thunderstruck is nowhere near the description of how that statement hit me.

    For me, this was that life-changing moment we often hear people speak of and, while I’ve had many moments that have effected me, this is THE defining moment of my life; a moment frequently reinforced by many subsequent college courses I loved, such as philosophy, anthropology, sociology, etc.

    As a result, I not only spent the following two years questioning that faith, but researching others too. And, regardless of the faith I was researching, the results were the same, every single time. I simply could not see anything other than man-made divisive, bigoted, biased, hate-promoting agendas hidden among messages supposedly meant to teach goodwill and to bring humanity together.

    I learned the most valuable lesson life has ever given me in that moment; to never stop introspective efforts in evaluating my personal beliefs. I’ve made many friends abroad simply by pursuing these efforts in my attempts to view the U.S. though the eyes of others, thereby examining my own perspectives of our own nation. Equally interesting, I’ve made many enemies of people (some of which are relatives) who were born and raised in the same redneck milkshake I was and living the ever-present, obnoxious and absolutely blind perspective of U.S. exceptionalism and “if you don’t like it here, leave.”

    From the xenophobic rage that permeates the government, advertising, and every other social structure we encounter, to the semi-disguised agenda of religions, we are misguided.

    Therefore; It is incumbent upon each and every human being to find truth and we can do this only through very conscious, and never-ending efforts of introspective analysis of ourselves and our personal beliefs.

    By its very design, we will never discover truth by allowing others to tell us what truth is. Sadly, however; a massive flaw of most of humanity is to do precisely that.

    The change from the “South” to Southern California turned out to be very refreshing change in life and supportive of my newly-discovered lifetime journey. In my traditional rebellious manner, I fell in love while a missionary (a major sin according to the rules of the Church) married my wife of 44 years in 1973 and are still happily married. We stayed in CA for over 20 years, until my career took me elsewhere, but now retired, we’re in the process of selling off our assets and moving back home to CA.

    In one of many strange twists of fate that seems to characterize my life, one of several moves in which my career took me was to a tiny little town in the same xenophobic region I grew up in.

    What a profound reinforcement of my decision as a youngster that was!

    My point in all this is, there is very little we’re truly born with. Even those who have pure, raw talent must learn how to harness that talent and to use it for the benefit of themselves and others.

    And, until they do that, there is no difference whatsoever between talent and skill.

    I’m a bit, like you in the talent department, but most likely far worse so. But, in my efforts to find a truthful and genuine blend of social circumstances, truths, realities, facts, and many other of life’s details, I’ve developed a fairly decent skill in reading information, analyzing it and finding a decent median somewhere along the center line of whatever the message is.

    Hell; I’m even registered as a “non-aligned” voter, because I cannot find it within myself to pick one party over another.

    I suppose, that my non-Mormon-like behavior was still a learning opportunity and I knew that if I didn’t take the opportunity to grow from it, I would forever be stuck in a sticky, redneck milkshake.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s