Giftedness and eminence: Clarifying the relationship

Summary by Szilvia Fodor

Acknowledged researchers of gifted education, Rena Subotnik, Frank Worrell and Paula Olszewski-Kubilius introduced the talent development megamodel (TDMM) to the extant literature and put forward a definition of giftedness as a developmental process in 2011 in their famous article, Rethinking giftedness and gifted education: A proposed direction forward based on psychological science (hyperlink: 11 years later, in 2022, their model is still under disccussion and development, and in their recent article the authors clarify the relationship and the distinction between giftedness, eminence and expertise, and  contribute to defining the concept of ’talent’.

The talent development megamodel (TDMM) was developed from an integration of literature on giftedness, expertise, and eminence, arguing that expertise is a point far beyond novice on the talent development trajectory, and eminence is the label reserved for the top contributors in a domain. In this paper, the authors review the literature situating eminence as the endpoint of a talent development trajectory, which can begin with gifted identification in schools. They also provide examples from several performance and production domains highlighting the TDMM’s proposed trajectory from potential to achievement to expertise, and sometimes, to eminence.

The journey from potential and competence to expertise and eminence is a long and uncertain one that involves not only individuals and their potential abilities, but also their commitment to the domain and their proximal environments, as well as luck and historical timing. As gifted education is typically focused on the academic domains in the context of schooling, we lose track of what happens after students graduate from the K–12 system. As such, traditional gifted education is focused mostly on potential and turning potential into competence. The translation of competence into expertise is often seen as beyond gifted education’s purview, except for the few who are interested in giftedness in adults.

This article argues that giftedness is developmental, that adult giftedness must be based on actual accomplishments, and that eminence ought to be a chief goal of gifted education and a potential long-term outcome of gifted education programs.