Talent versus practice – a follow-up on practising storytelling to develop exceptional communication skills


A while ago, I wrote about the value of practising storytelling in order to improve your storytelling skills and use them to strengthen your communication. Someone wrote to me recently, lambasting me for relying on my experience in this area and pointing me in the direction of a new Princeton study by Brooke N. MacnamaraDavid Z. HambrickFrederick L. Oswald entitled “Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions. A Meta-Analysis.”

This study is a a meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, in which the researchers found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference in performance in various domains.

Deliberate practice is perhaps not all that it’s made up to be

The conclusion was that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued, particularly if you take into account how deliberate practice helps or hinders in different domains.

For example:

  • In games, practice made for a 26% difference
  • In music, it was a 21% difference
  • In sports, an 18% difference
  • In education, a 4% difference
  • In professions, just a 1% difference

However, what’s interesting is that this closing of the gap is not necessarily about talent versus practice, but also about other external factors like the age of embarking on a new skill, education, personality and others.

Scott Barry Kaufman talks about this eloquently in his blog post “Practice Alone Does Not Make Perfect, Studies Find” in Scientific American.

So what about my previous thoughts on the benefits of practising?

Overall, I still believe that practising storytelling skills is the way to improve them, and in all honesty, I believe that most external factors like age and education have less impact on a person’s ability to tell stories well that the domains studied by Ericsson et al in 1993 and Macnamara et al in 2014.

Why? Because storytelling is a very human behaviour. To my knowledge, all humans begin telling stories from a very young age, and before they can talk, they are constantly hearing stories from their parents and grandparents and siblings.

For example, the stories that mothers tell their unborn children of their hopes and aspirations, stories of their hopeful futures. Or the stories that grandmothers tell grandchildren – those that start with, “When I was your age…” or “When your mommy was a little girl…”

That means that we have excellent storytellers to model our skills upon from pre-birth, and that we all have an innate ability to tell stories to varying degrees.

Cultivating that ability through practice – well, I believe that the difference would far exceed a measly 26%. Of course, the official research on that assertion isn’t in as yet, but I am fairly confident that practising a pre-existing skill or ability is usually likely to improve with an investment of time and energy.

And again, I believe that the investment of time and energy is worth it to be able to communicate clearly, change minds, set hearts afire and drive action.


Brooke N. MacnamaraDavid Z. HambrickFrederick L. Oswald (2014) “Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions. A Meta-Analysis.”


Drake Baer (2014):  “New Study Destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule”, Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/new-study-destroys-malcolm-gladwells-10000-rule-2014-7?IR=T

Scott Barry Kaufman (2014): Practice Alone Does Not Make Perfect, Studies Find” https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/practice-alone-does-not-make-perfect-studies-find/

  1. Jun 28, 2017 9:14 am

    For sure, practicing makes behaviors ‘habitual’, thus less requiring cognitively; which is an advantage in a stable context. Thus, you can focus on the unexpected part of the situation, and handle it correctly without spending too much time on details you already solved many time previously. I think the main message from this meta-study is that practice without further self-analysis is not sufficient : you need anyway to have an explicit comprehension of what you’re doing to find how it can be improved. One example is about learning a language : you can definitely learn a language (e.g. German) just by practice (that a popular method these days), but if you don’t understand why you use certain constructions, you can’t generalize (e.g. which declensions are used with each gender/grammar structure), thus you’ll be stuck to some level.

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