Quantity Over Quality and Untapped Potential

There’s a PC game from 2005 called ‘The Movies’ which was made by Lionhead Studios, which was formed by Peter Molyneux. He’s known for making the Fable series and little else these days, but back in the 90s his studio Bullfrog made some stone-cold classics such as Populous, Theme Park, Syndicate and Dungeon Keeper. ‘The Movies’ was kind of a throwback to those old management sims, and placed the player in the role of a movie mogul. You’d build your studio, hire actors and release films. Really fun game, if a bit short-lived. Had a great soundtrack.

All three of the English kids got into The Movies in a big way. We all had a soft spot for those types of games, and we each had our own approach. “Just make a lot of movies,” David said to me. “Doesn’t matter if they’re good or not. Just make loads of them and you’ll get results.” He’d have made a good studio head. I was too concerned with making highly-rated movies and ran my studio into the ground.

It was hard, though. There were too few high-quality actors around. They’d line up outside your studio, begging for a job.  Hover your mouse over them and you could see their talents. One of them might suck at drama, but be very suited to action movies, so they’d get hired for “Punchface 2: Punch Harder”. After a while, though, everyone that applied was just awful. Probably no-hopers from the amateur dramatic society at uni.

David had stumbled upon a secret, however. He’d figured out that you didn’t necessarily need to hire actors – you could put anyone in a movie and they’d get the job done. Even janitors. You couldn’t check to see how good they were, so it was a bit of a gamble, but if all your actors were busy filming the latest shit pile David English Productions was due to release, you had to take your chances. To our surprise, we discovered that upon hiring a non-actor, their abilities would be revealed. And wouldn’t you know it, some of them were amazing. Undiscovered romantic leads and comedy geniuses, all pottering around a movie lot fixing toilets and serving burgers.

The memory of these quiet prodigies has stuck with me over the years, and comes back to me whenever the subject of talent comes up. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly talented, because no matter how much time passes, I always seem to be surrounded by people who are far better at everything I want to be good at. Either that, or I’ll hear perfectly capable friends mutter that they have no musical talent. I always thought that was a particular brand of horseshit.

I think there are two kinds of talent. The first is genetic, where you’ll have practiced (probably for 10,000 hours if Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed), learned everything there is to know about your field and pioneered some new approaches along the way, and you’re still better than everyone else. Michael Phelps has a long wingspan; Rachmaninoff had freakishly large hands. These traits do not in themselves guarantee success, but when there’s nothing left to differentiate you from the competition because you’ve all worked equally hard, it gives you the edge.

The second is simple aptitude and enjoyment. For whatever reason, something about that skill just appeals to you and you enjoy it regardless of success. Or maybe you do something else that has some transferrable skill, even if you’re not aware of it – Rebecca’s particularly good at packing bags, which I think is a result of many hours of Tetris.

So talent doesn’t matter, really. You can’t change genetics, and unless you’re planning to be the greatest of all time (something that can only be achieved by one person in a generation), they don’t really affect how far you can go. As for aptitude and enjoyment, you’ll never know if you have a knack for something until you give it a go. And if you don’t have a knack for it (playing guitar doesn’t give you a head start on cooking, believe me), relax: it just means you’ll take a wee bit longer to get the knack. You’ve got a lifetime to develop it.

Most people can do most things. You just have to be humble, recognise that you know fuck-all about the skill, and remember at all times that you’re trying to improve – not to be the best, but just to be better than you were last time. Ignore all those hyper-competitive morons who devour self-help books and talk about being winners, they’ve already lost. Forget about the goal and just do it a tiny bit better than last time. That’s easy.

“Just make a lot of them, Ryan. Doesn’t matter if they’re good or not, just make loads of them and you’ll get results.”

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