Balance in a Complex Dynamic

In a major study of talent development in teenagers, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Samuel Whalen (both at the University of Chicago) and Kevin Rathunde (University of Utah) identified a number of influential factors.  The researchers explained these in their book “Talented Teenagers” (Cambridge University Press). Teenagers who developed their abilities were found to have personalities that were open to new experiences.  They demonstrated an ability to sustain current interests while also expanding their interests.  This involved balance and hard work, but the talented teens used their intelligence to establish efficient habits and identify effective ways to utilize the time they had available.

There was time spent alone and with families; time spent with friends tended to be productive.  They were often engaged with friends in activities, such as study or hobby groups, that were active, challenging, built skills and were related to their talents. Described as modulating and economizing attention, talented teenagers diverted more of their focus and energy into the development of talent.  None of this is easy to do and there was often a feeling of ‘tension’ for individuals who tried to maintain an appropriate balance.

Characteristics such as intrinsic motivation and an ability to establish goals were identified among these students.  Individuals and their family environments were described as “autotelic”, referring to the ability to locate sources of stimulation to maintain interest and a heightened level of challenge. By maintaining interest, involvement and satisfaction in activities, students were able to establish and achieve short and longer term goals.  Basically, they enjoyed the journey as well as the destination.

Home environments of high achieving students were found to be integrating and differentiating.  There was strong cohesion, support and interaction within the family but individuals were encouraged and challenged to identify their own interests and abilities.  School environments of teenagers who developed their talents provided a context in which students felt supported and stimulated.  In home as well as school environments, research established that the combination of nurture and challenge appeared to be critical. One without the other was not successful; both were needed and they must be balanced in order to create the optimal environment for talent development.

The identification of this dynamic – the need for individuals, families and schools to locate and maintain an appropriate balance between these processes – led the authors to refer to this as the complex dynamic of talent development.  Finding the optimal balance of these experiences and processes requires monitoring, reflection and readjustment when required.  The ability to locate an optimal balance improves the complex dynamic of talent development.

©  Michele Juratowitch