Talent is Overrated

I recently stumbled upon the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and it turned out to be incredibly appropriate for my current path as a professional trainer.

If you ever want to become better at what you do, if you’re a teacher, or a parent, if you practice a sport or intelectual discipline - really, if you appreciate expertise in any way - I would strongly recommend you read this book.

In short, the book examines the following idea: most of us, when asked to think about world-class top performers (chess masters, olimpic medalists, best seller authors), tend to assume they were born with some kind of talent that made it much easier for them to get to the top. However, as Colvin finds in his research, the correlation between early signs of talent and top level performance is practically non-existent.

If not talent, what makes these people the best in the world, then?

Colvin discusses the idea of Deliberate Practice, which has three key components:

  1. A training program designed by an expert,
  2. Immediate feedback, either by other people or the environment,
  3. Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition...

My summary does not do the book any justice, so if any of this sounds interesting, pick it up and give it a good read.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Contemporary athletes are superior not because they are somehow different, but because they train themselves more effectively”
“We’re awed by the performances of champion sports teams or great orchestras and theatre companies, but when we get to the office, it occurs to practically no one that we might have something to learn by studying how some people became so accomplished”
“Employees aren’t children, but many of them, like children, will not voluntarily keep seeking new works experiences that stress their weakest professional muscles, the temptation to continue doing what you do compfortably is too great.”
“If inborn gifts aren’t the cause of success, then each of us must be responsible for our achievements - or at least much more responsible than we believed.”