Talent vs Skill and How to Maximize Both

What is it that you have that you were born with that makes you distinctly unique?  What talent have you been gifted with that makes your wildest dreams possible and is that talent enough to get you there?  

There is a common misunderstanding about skill and talent.  Most people seem to think they are the same and that you can succeed greatly with either one of them.  Well, the truth is you can do a lot with one or the other but to you’ll need both to get the most from your potential.

The debate between skill and talent is an ongoing one that has been argued time and time again.  During my research for this article (and believe me this is an extensive subject) I came across many view points but I ultimately came to one realization, talent opens doors but skill determines the level of success a person has.


We Admire Talent; We Pay For Skill.

Some people have a hard time recognizing the difference between skill and talent so whenever they see some one who is expectational at what they do, they tend to automatically chalk it up to talent.  One of the reasons this happens is because most people do not see the hard work and effort that goes into developing a skill.

There is a very easy way to tell the difference between talent and skill.  The next time you are on Youtube, search for your favorite song performed by your favorite artist.  Once you’ve watched and enjoyed the video, search for the same song but done as a cover.  You will see an immediate difference.

What you will no doubt find is many talented singers with nice voices but only a few of them will be skilled.  And that, my friends, is the true difference.  We admire talent, but we pay for skill!

Talent is a beautiful thing to witness.  It is a gift that someone is born with and should be treasured and appreciated.  Adults love to look at their child with musical or athletic talent and predict how far that talent will take them.  Talent fuels dreams and creates possibilities but it is not the magic pill for success.  

Skilled individuals are harder to come by and there is a reason for this.  Skill in general, takes time and effort to develop.  Unlike talent, the level of skill someone has is usually directly influenced by the level of commitment they put into their craft.

I think you get the picture but in case you don’t, here are some other examples

Talent-Gets you an interview.

Skill-Gets you promoted.

Talent-Is entertaining

SkillIs effective

TalentDraws attention

Skill-Keeps attention

Talent-Is what could be accomplished one day

SkillIs what actually gets accomplished


“If you’ve got a talent, protect it.” Jim Carrey

Utilizing Talent

Talent and potential are not always good indicators of who will and who will not be successful.  Just because someone is born with a certain set of genes doesn’t mean that person is destined for greatness.  Rather, it is what that person does with those genes that will make the most difference.  Even though your gifts and talents don’t guarantee your success, there are several advantages to being particularly talented in some area.

Value Your Talent
Talent is precious and should not be taken for granted.  One of the reasons people never reach their full potential is because they do not value the talent that they possess.  If someone has a talent for singing then it is wise for them to be sure they are not abusing their vocal cords.

Treating your talent like a rare commodity that needs to be protected and nurtured is a habit that will ensure you get the most from it.

Open Doors
The good thing about being talented is that talent is easily recognizable.  The fact that it is so recognizable makes the opportunities to showcase that talent more common.  This is a very big deal!  Having these opportunities gives you a head start on everyone else who is trying to reach the same goals.

Put Talent on Display
Lets say that you are a very talented singer.  Chances are your cousin is going to ask you to sing at her wedding, you are going to be asked to join your church choir and your friends are going to throw a karaoke party starring you.  Each of these scenarios is an opportunity to showcase your talent.

The Head Start
Another advantage of being talented is the fact that you have a head start on other people.  A person who has a talent for singing and practices her talent early in life will usually have an advantage over someone who decides to learn how to sing at age 25.  Although the person who is 25 may be able to improve their voice, it would be very difficult to match the skill level of someone who has been singing for most of their life.

That’s the good thing about talent; it opens many doors and creates opportunities.  However, those opportunities don’t always equal success. To get to the point of real achievement you must maximize your skills; here’s how.

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece”-John Ruskin

Maximizing Skill

In order to maximize a skill set, you must continue to train, practice, and develop those skills.   Life would be so much easier if we could wake up one day with all of the skills and knowledge in the world.  Even if you could, I still believe that it would be necessary to develop and grow those skills in order to become an overachiever.

Develop the Skill
Skills are like muscles; they must be trained and toned in order to grow.  Also like muscles, if they are not used they begin to shrink and wither.  Unlike talent which can be identified easily, it is almost impossible to spot skill unless it has been developed.

The Commitment
Maximizing your skill will also take commitment; long-term commitment.  The reason we value skill so much is because we understand that a highly skilled individual is hard to come by.  We also know that skill development takes time.  To get to the top of your field there must be a commitment to making  yourself better today then you were yesterday.

The Beauty of Competition
One way to maximize your skill is to develop a spirit of competition.  As a speaker, I competed in many Toastmaster International speaking competitions.  The experience was not only good for my confidence, it let me know where I ranked among other talented and skilled speakers.

Even during the Italian Renaissance, competition was used to make artist better.  The great artists of the time worked tirelessly trying to outdo each other.  And, to fan the flames, Florence, Italy regularly held competitions to choose which works would grace the buildings and landmarks around the city.  Learn to build your competitive spirit; even if you are competing against yourself. 

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  • http://lifestoked.com Deacon Bradley

    I like how you pointed out that talent isn’t what makes the best of the best so great, it’s skill. Dan Miller talks briefly about that in his book No More Mondays. He notices our tendency to look just at the final product – the actor who effortlessly delivers lines, the athlete who gracefully improvises a brilliant play. When we can’t do the same thing we just assume they’re much more talented than us, when really they’ve been taking that talent and working on it tirelessly for years to develop it.

    Sometimes that same thinking is an easy cop-out for us. Like me for example, I really want to be a great speaker. It’s easy to think, “Well I’m not as naturally gifted as _____ holding an audiences’ attention, I guess it’s just not for me.” I can still develop that skill through hard work!

    Thanks for pointing this out Ralph! Great post!

  • ralphjp

    Hey, great example!  The speaking in public thing is a perfect example of what a lot of what many people think they cannot do.  But, I’ve helped many people become really good speakers by putting in practice, time and effort.

    And you’re right, we love the finish product. Mostly, because thats all we see.  I’m starting to realize that the formula for becoming better is the same whether you’re born with that talent or not.

    Thanks for the valuable comment Deacon!

  • http://profiles.google.com/heath.dianne Dianne Heath

    I love how you break this down. I think if teachers understood that skills have to be developed then it would definitely diminish the attitude that if the student isn’t talented then there isn’t hope for them. For some people it can even be hard for them to discover or express their talent if they don’t have the opportunity to explore or they are being repressed.

  • ralphjp

    You know, that is an excellent point.  I think many educational institutions miss this.  I wish I would have had a class in talent development or even one that at least encouraged the exploration of my talents more than just trying to get a certain grad in the class.  Would have saved me so much time as an adult.

    Thanks for the thoughts Dianne 🙂

  • http://www.fredtracy.com Fred Tracy

    Great post, and it makes a lot of sense. What’s really amazing is when someone has a great natural talent and they develop it fully with skill. Then it’s like magic.

    And on that last point – I would say competing against yourself is one of the most useful exercises we can do. Competing against others can lead to success, but also leads to a lot of self condemnation and useless comparison.

    I love competing against myself. 🙂

  • ralphjp

    Hey Fred!  Whats up!? 
    Competition can really stretch your ability.  I love it!  Competing against others can have some drawbacks but if a person can retain a healthy self image it really does make the mind tougher.  I have no problem losing to someone who is just plain better than me as long as I can learn how to be better from losing to them.

  • http://www.fredtracy.com Fred Tracy

    Awesome perspective. Rock on.

  • http://www.bayut.com Dubai Properties

    Talent and skills are two different entities. They are not guaranteed to co-exsist in in a person having either one. Talent is present in a person right from birth but skills have to be perfected and toned by a teacher. The teacher can be anyone, an other person, self or even time.

    I agree employers and the audience pay for skills and rarely for talent. There are many talent hunter agencies who pick up young people but before introducing the talent to the masses these agencies polish them and make them skillful in their art. Talent must be protected and skills much be achieved to showcase the talent and protect it still.

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