So what makes some people world-class performers? Is it due to innate talent? Do they possess god-given gifts? Do they have fantastic intelligence? Or are they genetically well-endowed? Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor at Fortune, explores this in a superb book - Talent is Overrated.
Taking a range of examples from the 1800s, and across a variety of disciplines including science, sports, music, investing and technology, his conclusion is profound yet simple. The answer to all the above questions is No. Mozart became Mozart by working hard.
But Colvin argues that is it not the simple ‘hard work’ - as we know it - that gets you ahead. What is required to build world-class performance is deliberate practice; a kind of practice that is specifically designed to improve performance, that is repetitive, that is highly demanding, that involves receiving constant feedback, and above all, that is just not much fun. Reading about Mozart, Tiger Woods (who was a world-class performer by 19 and been practicing the game for 17 years), Warren Buffett and many more, we understand that as you apply the principles of sustained deliberate practice, you perceive better, understand more and remember a lot more.
The book is good not just because it is relevant to sports and music. For professionals like us, it talks about the importance of building deep domain knowledge, reading multiple case studies to manage the complex interplays, and setting goals not just about the outcome, but more specifically on the process we will undertake to reach the outcome.
Parents will be delighted to know that the book does not discount the ‘edge’ a child may have in intelligence or capability. But they must heed the argument that these advantages are at best marginal. The ‘edge’ in a child translates to ‘greatness’ only due to the multiplier effect of deliberate practice coupled with a strong support environment, the right tutors in one’s life, the sacrifices made by family and the intrinsic passion within.
We all know the 10,000 hour rule (simply put, it is the extent of effort required to be considered an ‘expert’ in any field). Where this book excels is in providing clarity on what constitutes ‘practice’ during those 10,000 hours. Read this once if you are a professional. Parents – read this twice.