Last Updated 15 Apr 2020

Talent Is Overrated

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Charles Bobb ALS 101 Professor Jeffrey Levine December 2, 2009 Talent Is Overrated What Really Separates World- Class Performers from Everyone Else By. Geoff Colvin Senior Editor at Large, FORTUNE Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin is a motivating book that puts outstanding performance into view. It presents a solid case that great performance does not come primarily from innate talent, or even hard work, as is supposed by most people.

The realistic value of the book comes from the practical function of the thesis. In talking about world class figure skaters, he said that top skaters work on the jumps they are worst at, whereas average skaters work on those they are already good at. In his words, “Landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from. ” Each of those hard landings is able to teach a lesson. Those who learn the lesson can move on to the next hard lesson. Those who don’t pay the price and learn the lesson never progress beyond it.

In other words, hard work and dedication is necessary but not sufficient in itself for developing higher level performance at any endeavor. All great performers get that way by working long and hard, but hard work and long hours obviously don’t make people great. Many people work long and hard and stay mediocre. The meat of the book describes what the author calls deliberate practice, and presents supporting evidence in a convincing manner. It matters what kind of practice, not just how long and how much sweat is spilled.

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Supportive on definition of innate talent Before considering evidence for and against the talent account, we should be as clear as possible about what is meant by "talent". In everyday life people are rarely precise about what they mean by this term: users do not specify what form an innate talent takes or how it might exert its influence. Certain pitfalls have to be avoided in settling on a definition of talent. A very restrictive definition could make it impossible for any conceivable evidence to demonstrate talent.

For example, some people believe that talent is based on an inborn ability that makes it certain that its possessor will excel. This criterion is too strong. At the other extreme, it would be possible to make the definition of talent so vague that its existence is trivially ensured; talent might imply no more than that those who reach high levels of achievement differ biologically from others in some undefined way. Yet those who believe that innate talent exists also assume that early signs of it can be used to predict future success. 1) There are many reports of children acquiring impressive skills very early in life, in the apparent absence of opportunities for the kinds of learning experiences that would normally be considered necessary. (2) Certain relatively rare capacities which could have an innate basis (e. g. , "perfect" pitch perception) appear to emerge spontaneously in a few children and may increase the likelihood of their excelling in music. (3) Biological correlates of certain skills and abilities have been reported. 4) Some especially compelling data comes from the case histories of autistic, mentally handicapped people classified as "idiot’s savants. " Practice makes perfect The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call "deliberate practice. " Its activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don't get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day - that's deliberate practice. Consistency is crucial. As Ericsson notes, "Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends. Evidence crosses a remarkable range of fields. In a study of 20-year-old violinists by Ericsson and colleagues, the best group (judged by conservatory teachers) averaged10, 000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives; the next-best averaged 7,500 hours; and the next, 5,000. It's the same story in surgery, insurance sales, and virtually every sport. More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance. Tiger Woods is a textbook example of what the research shows.

Because his father introduced him to golf at an extremely early age - 18 months - and encouraged him to practice intensively, Woods had racked up at least 15 years of practice by the time he became the youngest-ever winner of the U. S. Amateur Championship, at age 18. Also in line with the findings, he has never stopped trying to improve, devoting many hours a day to conditioning and practice, even remaking his swing twice because that's what it took to get even better. The business side The evidence, scientific as well as anecdotal, seems overwhelmingly in favor of deliberate practice as the source of great performance.

Just one problem: How do you practice business? Many elements of business, in fact, are directly practicable. Presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, and deciphering financial statements - you can practice them all. , they aren't the essence of great managerial performance. That requires making judgments and decisions with imperfect information in an uncertain environment, interacting with people, seeking information - can you practice those things too? The first is going at any task with a new goal: Instead of merely trying to get it done, you aim to get better at it.

Report writing involves finding information, analyzing it and presenting it - each an improbable skill. Chairing a board meeting requires understanding the company's strategy in the deepest way, forming a coherent view of coming market changes and setting a tone for the discussion. Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improbable skill. Why? For most people, work is hard enough without pushing even harder. Those extra steps are so difficult and painful they almost never get done. That's the way it must be. If great performance were easy, it wouldn't be rare.

Which leads to possibly the deepest question about greatness? While experts understand an enormous amount about the behavior that produces great performance, they understand very little about where that behavior comes from. The authors of one study conclude, "We still do not know which factors encourage individuals to engage in deliberate practice. " Or as University of Michigan business school professor Noel Tichy puts it after 30 years of working with managers, "Some people are much more motivated than others, and that's the existential question I cannot answer - why. The critical reality is that we are not hostage to some naturally granted level of talent. We can make ourselves what we will. Strangely, that idea is not popular. People hate abandoning the notion that they would coast to fame and riches if they found their talent. But that view is tragically constraining, because when they hit life's inevitable bumps in the road, they conclude that they just aren't gifted and give up. Maybe we can't expect most people to achieve greatness. It's just too demanding. But the striking, liberating news is that greatness isn't reserved for a preordained few.

It is available to you and to everyone. A Mnemonic System for Digit Span: One Year Later. (2002) | * Chase, William G. , * Ericsson, K. Anders| Abstract| With 18 months of practice on the digit-p task, a single subject has shown a steady improvement from 7 digits to 70 digits, and there is no evidence that performance will approach an asymptote. Continuous improvement in performance is accompanied by refinements in the subject's mnemonic system and hierarchical organization of his retrieval system. (Author).

Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, (20th), Phoenix, AZ, 8-10 Nov 79. | Talent without deliberate practice is latent" and agrees with Darrell Royal that "potential" means "you ain't done it yet. " In other words, there would be no great performances in any field (e. g. business, theatre, dance, symphonic music, athletics, science, mathematics, entertainment, exploration) without those who have, through deliberate practice developed the requisite abilities Colvin duly acknowledges that deliberate practice "is a large concept, nd to say that it explains everything would be simplistic and reductive. " Colvin goes on to say, "Critical questions immediately present themselves: What exactly needs to be practiced? Precisely how? Which specific skills or other assets must be acquired? The research has revealed answers that generalize quite well across a wide range of fields. Talent is overrated if it is perceived to be the most important factor. It isn't. In fact, talent does not exist unless and until it is developed... nd the only way to develop it is (you guessed it) with deliberate practice. Colvin commits sufficient attention to identifying the core components of great performance but focuses most of his narrative to explaining how almost anyone can improve her or his own performance. He reveals himself to be both an empiricist as he shares what he has observed and experienced and a pragmatist who is curious to know what works, what doesn't, and why. I also appreciate Colvin's repudiation of the most common misconceptions about the various dimensions of talent.

For example, that "is innate; you're born with it, and if you're not born with it, you can't acquire it. " Many people still believe that Mozart was born with so much talent that he required very little (if any) development. In fact, according to Alex Ross, "Mozart became Mozart by working furiously hard" as did all others discussed, including Jack Welch, David Ogilvy, Warren Buffett, Robert Rubin, Jerry Rice, Chris Rock, and Benjamin Franklin. Some were prodigies but most were late-bloomers and each followed a significantly different process of development.

About all they shared in common is their commitment to continuous self-improvement through deliberate practice. Colvin provides a wealth of research-driven information that he has rigorously examined and he also draws upon his own extensive and direct experience with all manner of organizations and their C-level executives. Throughout his narrative, with great skill, he sustains a personal rapport with his reader. It is therefore appropriate that, in the final chapter, he invokes direct address and poses a series of questions. What would cause you to do the enormous work necessary to be a top-performing CEO, Wall Street trader, jazz, pianist, courtroom lawyer, or anything else? Would anything? The answer depends on your answers to two basic questions: What do you really want? And what do you really believe? What you want - really want - is fundamental because deliberate practice is a heavy investment. " Corbin has provided all the evidence anyone needs to answer those two questions that, in fact, serve as a challenge.

It occurs to me that, however different they may be in almost all other respects, athletes such as Cynthia Cooper, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Lorena Ochoa, Candace Parker, Michael Phelps, Vijay Singh, and Tiger Woods "make it look so easy" in competition because their preparation is so focused, rigorous, and thorough. Obviously, they do not win every game, match, tournament, etc. Colvin's point (and I agree) is that all great performers "make it look so easy" because of their commitment to deliberate practice, often for several years before their first victory.

In fact, Colvin cites a "ten-year rule" widely endorsed in chess circles (attributed to Herbert Simon and William Chase) that "no one seemed to reach the top ranks of chess players without a decade or so of intensive study, and some required much more time. " The same could also be said of "overnight sensations" who struggled for years to prepare for their "big break" on Broadway or in Hollywood. | The book adds a few paragraphs or two to the Jack Welch entry in the annals of business history. Neutron Jack" kept people from getting too comfortable, once explaining that it wasn't 100,000 General Electric (GE) employees he eliminated, it was 100,000 GE positions. His radioactive personality aside, Welch had remarkable success grooming top corporate leaders. The equity value of companies run by Welch's proteges - including GE, 3M, Home Depot and Honeywell - may well exceed some national budgets, so it is interesting to learn what qualities Welch encouraged as a mentor.

Welch's "4E's" of leadership help explain how he generated so much value over the years for his grateful shareholders. Krames extracts leadership ideas from Welch's track record and makes them quick and handy. Although the book is more useful than original, we find that the articulation of the 4E's, and the profiles of Welch's proteges make it a solid addition to any business library. Colvin leaves no doubt that by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better... and that includes his reader.

This reader is now convinced that talent is a process that "grows," not a pre-determined set of skills. Also, that deliberates practice "hurts but it works. " Long ago, Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right. " It would be "tragically constraining," Colvin asserts, for anyone to lack sufficient self-confidence because "what the evidence shouts most loudly is striking, liberating news: That great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and to everyone. "

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