Three Things That Require Zero Talent

Posted by bob on January 20, 2022

You likely have encountered a list of “Ten Things that Require Zero Talent” on LinkedIn or some other social media site. This list is often re-arranged according to the particular author. In short, these are all activities that are presumed to require no talent, but can be practiced by anybody to make themselves a success in their chosen profession.

Some authors disagree with the entire premise that these actions require no talent.1

Other authors suggest that most of the list could be reorganized as a collection of nine behaviors under the single heading of “Having a Strong Work Ethic.”

I was thinking about explaining how most of these attributes could also be applied to the skill of problem solving, when I realized that 10 items represents far too long of a list to easily memorize. So I came up with a better list of three activities to make you a better problem solver:

  1. Listen.
  2. Read a lot.
  3. Write Stuff Down.

1-Listen: This activity is much broader than you might think.

I am not saying, “Oh, you should listen to me.” Nope, my voice is just one of billions.

I am saying you should listen to many voices, some of which might be speaking in odd accents, with odd words, and with different ideas than your own. Listen to what your customer is saying. Listen to your boss (at least a little bit). Listen to your spouse. Listen to your family and friends. Listen to strangers.

Listen to the machine that is not working. Many times that machine is telling you what is wrong. There is a story in An Engineer’s Guide to Solving Problems that describes fixing a computer system by listening (over a telephone) to the sounds that a disk drive made while the system was booting.

2-Read a Lot: “Read what?” you might ask. My answer is that you should read a lot of (almost) everything you can. Here are just a few examples:

  • Read lots of news articles. News articles often give you some insight into large trends, including what is happening with your customers and their customers.
  • Read some long form novels, including crime-solving mysteries. This can help train your brain to keep track of multiple characters and facts.
  • “Read” other peoples’ designs.
  • Read schematic diagrams.
  • Read pictorial drawings.
  • Read code listings and comments.
  • Read online design articles. Read informative comments to those design articles and ignore trolls.
  • When attacking a specific problem RTFM (meaning Read-The-Fricking-Manual) is always a good place to start.

3-Write Stuff Down: I have written many essays in these blog posts and in An Engineer’s Guide to Solving Problems discussing the importance of writing stuff down. The bottom line is: if you did not document it, it did not happen. Most of us learned how to read and write in the first few years of school. Why is this still so difficult for so many people? Please, stop thinking of this activity as slowing you down; but instead think of it as saving you lots and lots of time—both sooner and later.

Writing stuff down also has the wonderful benefit of helping you organize your thoughts. You will think and re-arrange your thoughts once you see them in writing.

Here are a few of the Better Bugs blog posts about writing stuff down:

In summary, the three activities I have listed take no special talent, but will improve as you practice doing them. This list is so short that it should be easy to remember. But to help, I will repeat it:

  1. Listen.
  2. Read a lot.
  3. Write Stuff Down.


1Here is an opinion pieces that argues against the common Ten Things meme:


For reference, the "Ten things that require Zero Talent" list is traditionally presented something like this, with varying order or wording:

  1. Being On Time
  2. Making an Effort
  3. Being High Energy
  4. Having a Positive Attitude
  5. Being Passionate
  6. Using Good Body Language
  7. Being Coachable
  8. Doing a Little Extra
  9. Being Prepared
  10. Having a Strong Work Ethic