Paul L. Caron
Dean




Thursday, May 11, 2006

What Makes People Good at Tax (or Anything Else)?

Freakonomics authors Stephen J. Dubner & Steven D. Levitt ask in their New York Times column (A Star Is Made):

If you were to examine the birth certificates of every soccer player in next month's World Cup tournament, you would most likely find a noteworthy quirk: elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months. If you then examined the European national youth teams that feed the World Cup and professional ranks, you would find this quirk to be even more pronounced. On recent English teams, for instance, half of the elite teenage soccer players were born in January, February or March....In Germany, 52 elite youth players were born in the first three months of the year, with just 4 players born in the last three....

Dubner & Levitt explain this anomaly:

Anders Ericsson, a 58-year-old psychology professor at Florida State University, ... is the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement, a loose coalition of scholars trying to answer an important and seemingly primordial question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

Ericsson's research suggests a third cliché as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better....

If nothing else, the insights of Ericsson and his Expert Performance compatriots can explain the riddle of why so many elite soccer players are born early in the year. Since youth sports are organized by age bracket, teams inevitably have a cutoff birth date. In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature. Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites.

For more, see the Freakonomics Blog.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2006/05/what_makes_peop.html

News | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c4eab53ef00d83489aa5853ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What Makes People Good at Tax (or Anything Else)?:

Comments

But the kid born in December will be challenged more because he is less mature versus the January-born players. The extra challenge at such a young age will equate to more "talent" - speed, agility, etc., a skill set designed to perform with the more mature players. This will come in handy later on when the age difference matters less.

This would be the explanation if the data was different. So where does it get us? I smell data-mining.

Posted by: Greg | May 11, 2006 4:11:58 PM