When someone tries a new skill for the first time, we instinctively see the first few minutes as hugely important. We eagle-eye the first tries for promising signs — a natural grace, a knack. We immediately start sorting people into categories: those who have it, and those who don’t.
With that in mind, here is former world #1 player Dinara Safina, when she was three (watch her adorable wipeout at the 15-second mark).
Here is the first web page Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg built, when he was fifteen.
And here is a time lapse of a new skier’s progression through his first two years, as filmed by his dad, who happens to be a reader of this blog.
The pattern is always the same, because our instincts are dead wrong. Early clumsiness is not a verdict: it’s an essential ingredient. Because the key to developing talent isn’t “identifying” it; it’s creating safe spaces where this kind of happy clumsiness can be nurtured, with time and repetition, into grace and skill.