I know it is literally years after this original post (chopped some) was made, but I felt it deserved a response specifically because it gives the wrong idea to people, namely that "talent exists in imagination", and it not a valid and real thing. Obviously gregsometimes might never read this response of mine, but I think that other people will and need to consider the facts of how different the definitions of talent that akeakamai and gregsometimes are using.
greg, you are partially right, when asked how someone mastered whatever it is they did, they are not likely to just say "they have a talent for it." That part is true, talent alone is not enough to master a skill, but to base your entire presumption about talent based on that theory is ludicrous at best. Would calling it a "natural ability" be something that would let you accept the concept better?
Truly mastering a skill DOES require more than just talent, there is no question about that. However, there are some people who, if you put them in a group of people, will possibly be slightly better at some things that they have never done before than others. It is not a "suitcase word", it is a fact. Me personally, if I were to have a test of skill against another person over something that I had not done before (and had no talent at), I would much rather face someone who has no talent at it, than face someone who did.
When I first started drumming (fife & drum), my instructor gave me a song's sheet music to play, and when I did, he told me that I was playing it as if I was someone that had 3 more months of skill than I did. Did I know how to read it right away? No, but doesn't mean that every skill is identical. Was it possible he was just saying that to encourage me? Yes. However, later on in my chosen style of playing, I was able to look at someone else, out of everyone in the large group that was playing all at the same time (look up fife & drum muster if you are curious about it) playing a certain song and figure out what sticking they were doing, when some other people would try to do the same thing and not be able to do it as quickly.
Having a talent for something makes it easier for some people to master their chosen skill and/or profession than others, but it does not mean that they have no talent to begin with because they had to work at mastering it. Nor does it mean that someone else without the same talent cannot be successful as the person with that talent. Will they be able to be as successful as the more talented one? Possibly, if they have more drive and ambition than the talented person does. However, everything else being equal between the two people, the person who has a talent for something will likely be able to get further faster than the person without the talent.