Talent is Overrated

Posted April 1, 2009 in Career Management, Self-Insight, What We're Reading

By: Geoff Colvin

Reviewed By: Glain Roberts-McCabe

The Premise: Think that certain people are born with natural gifts and talents and that’s what makes them so successful? Think again, says Geoff Colvin, senior editor at Fortune, in this provocative read. Colvin explores some of our world’s iconic “natural” talents and provokes a different perspective: maybe all the great success is mostly a result of (insert shudder here) really hard work. The implication being that pretty much anyone could become a maestro in their field if they were willing to undertake the mind-numbing efforts of “deliberate” practice in order to get there. Fortunately for Tiger Woods and the like, most of us aren’t willing to invest the physical or mental effort required to become exceptional. Through a variety of examples, Colvin builds his case around why genes and “gifts” may not be all they’re cracked up to be. He also breaks down what “deliberate” practice looks like and how you can adopt it in your chosen field. He even offers up tips on how organizations can apply the same principles to boost overall corporate performance.

The Bottom-line: This book has caused me more than one tense debate over natural vs. learned ability. Depending on whether you’re currently living your career dream or not, you’ll find it may cut a little close to the core thanks to the assertion that maybe lack of natural talent isn’t what’s held you back. According to Colvin, you really could have been the next Hendrix/Piccasso/Jack Welch/Barack Obama… if only you’d just worked a lot harder. The primary concept Colvin puts forward is that “deliberate” practice is what separates exceptional people from the rest of us. I found this a really interesting assertation that helped me see how I could increase my own effectiveness by really delving into my weaknesses. This feels a bit counter to much of the “work with your strengths” material that’s out there, but makes lot’s of sense as Colvin shares his various stories and examples. The reality is that most of us choose the easy path… avoiding things that we are less successful at and, instead, sticking with what’s comfortable. Exceptional performers don’t do that. No matter what your “natural” ability is, getting to the top of your chosen profession isn’t easy. It takes hard work and deliberate practice and – don’t kid yourself – even if you love what you do, most of that practice is not going to be a lot of fun.

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