The author of Talent is Overrated discovered that there is this body of scientific research that he (and almost nobody) didn’t really know about, and when he got into it, Geoff Colvin thought it was incredibly interesting and also extremely important. So he wrote about it.
Talent is Overrated sheds some light on how even though most people spend a great deal of hours working, they perform just okay—not awesomely, not amazingly, not world-class excellent.
When asked to explain why a few people are excellent at what they do, most of us have two answers. The first one is hard work. If you work hard, you’ll be fine. And those get along perfectly acceptably but never become particularly good at it. Second, the great good fortune to discover their natural gift (usually early in life).
But is that true?
New findings on great performance
Geoff Colvin shares some conclusions—given by scientists around the world who have looked into top-level performance in a wide array of fields, including management, chess, swimming, surgery, jet piloting, violin playing, sales, novel writing, and many others—that directly contradict most of what we all think we know about great performance.
Some researchers now argue that specifically targeted innate abilities are simply fiction. That is, you are not a natural-born clarinet virtuoso or car salesman or bond trader or brain surgeon—because no one is. In many realms—chess, music, business, medicine—we assume that the outstanding performers must possess staggering intelligence or gigantic memories. Some do, but many do not.
For example, some people have become international chess masters though they possess below average IQs. Deliberate practice is not what most of us do when we think we are practicing golf or the oboe or any of our other interests. Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts. But it works.
What is deliberate practice?
Deliberate practice is a very specifically defined type of activity that pursued at sufficient length with enough intensity really does seem what all great performers in any field have in common.
The effect of the activity is accumulated, so better start young! When one starts up as a child, even the brain develops differently.
The author of Talent is Overrated tells that shown five groups of students, one of which won positions at a top-ranked music school and one of which gave up even trying to play an instrument, we would all say the first group is obviously immensely more talented than latter. But the study showed that—at least as most of us understand ‘talent,’ meaning an ability to achieve more easily—they were not.
Examples: The Mozart of Golf and Bill Gates
So here is the situation: Tiger is born into the home of an expert golfer and confessed ‘golf addict’ who loves to teach and is eager to begin teaching his new son as soon as possible. Earl’s wife does not work outside the home, and they have no other children; they have decided that ‘Tiger would be the first priority in our relationship,’ Earl wrote. Earl gives Tiger his first metal club, a putter, at the age of seven months. He sets up Tiger’s high chair in the garage, where Earl is hitting balls into a net, and Tiger watches for hours on end. ‘It was like a movie being run over and over and over for his view,’ Earl wrote. Earl develops new techniques for teaching the grip and the putting stroke to a student who cannot yet talk. Before Tiger is two, they are at the golf course playing and practicing regularly.
Said that, the author of Talent is Overrated remarks two facts. First, he had been practicing golf with tremendous intensity, first under his father and after the age of four under professional teachers, for seventeen years, till Tiger achieved outstanding performance. Second, neither Tiger nor his father suggested that Tiger came into this world with a gift for golf. Asked to explain Tiger’s phenomenal success, father and son always gave the same reason: hard work.
What suggested that Bill Gates would become the king of all computer geeks?
It’s clear that Gates’s early interests led directly to Microsoft. The problem is that nothing in his story suggest extraordinary abilities. As he is the first to note, legions of kids were interested in the possibilities of computers in those days. Harvard at that time was bursting with computer geeks who well understood what a technology revolution was happening.
So the answer is nothing in particular. On close examination, it was probably not his software expertise that was most critical to his success. The more relevant abilities were the ability to launch a business and then the quite different abilities required to manage a large corporation.
The true role of intelligence in high achievement
Talent is Overrated provides also an interesting approach on intelligence in high achievement. Many of the most successful people do seem to be highly intelligent, but what the research suggest very strongly is that the link between intelligence and high achievement isn’t nearly as powerful as we commonly suppose. Most important, the research tells us that intelligence as we usually think of it—a high IQ—is not a prerequisite to extraordinary achievement.
Besides prodigious memories, high-performing businesspeople often seem to have tremendous intellects. Warren Buffet is famous for doing complicated math in his head. He claims not to own a calculator, and given his reputation for honesty, there’s no reason to doubt him.