Posts for the Outwork Book Club will be continuous; I will post updates as I work through each book. Eventually, I will encourage readers to follow along with me and add any insight or pose questions about the central themes of the book. This is what we call a living document; mostly because it doesn’t immediately die as soon as it becomes published like everything else. It is something that is continuously updated and changed over time to reflect the newest information.
TALENT IS OVERRATED
by Geoff Colvin | Link to book
Many would say that great performers are gifted with “talent”— a form of innate skill possessed from childhood that enables these great performers to truly excel.
The talent myth is just that: a myth. Colvin’s work truly aims to dispel the lie about talent and instead charters a more realistic path to greatness — one that involves a concept called deliberate practice and a lot of time spent working on a skill.
August 15, 2017
Many would also say that sheer experience is the answer. That someone is talented because they have a lot of exposure to a skill, job, or task. That is also not true. Don’t we all know people that are just mediocre at what they do despite years of being on the job? There is a certain drop off point where most careerists fail to get better. They just simply continue to do what is easy and comfortable, halting growth and progress altogether. This is a regular occurrence in all industries and can even be seen in high-level sports and business. Success, in a way, can also be a hindrance to the process of continuous improvement.
If it’s not innate talent, granted to us by some divine blessing and if it’s not sheer experience than what exactly produces great performers and high-level abilities that seem to be accessible only to the world-class?
What I like most about Colvin’s research is that he proves great performance exists within everyone. Through the application of his research and ideas, anyone can rise to be seen as a “talented” individual, a fast mover, pacemaker, and even an authority within their field.
Great performance is in our hands far more than most of us ever suspected. – Geoff Colvin
September 1, 2017
Where does talent come from?
Most people won’t achieve greatness or even close, even though they put in lots and lots of time.
Top performers, those we consider to be excellent, or gifted, or special, do not possess superhuman abilities. Despite our preconceived notions, research proves that there is no such thing as innate talent: people are not born with unique abilities, they acquire it.
Their skill comes from a simple explanation: deliberate practice.
The often-used example of Mozart as a gifted prodigy has been overlooked. Instead, Mozart was a product of his upbringing, with his father immersing him in study at the age of three. His father was also a well-studied musician with a passion for teaching. The environmental influences that created Mozart were unmatched, perhaps the best in all of history.
WHAT IS DELIBERATE PRACTICE?
Deliberate practice is a type of repetitive training that is designed to improve performance.
It is a carefully crafted type of practice that specifically aims to stretch an individual beyond their current abilities. It demands that a person intently works on sharpening an element of their performance — great performers isolate specific aspects of what they do and focus on just those things until they are improved.
Principles of Deliberate Practice
“If activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them and they would not distinguish the best from the rest” – Geoff Colvin
1. High repetition is the most important difference-maker: top performers repeat their practice activities to an excruciating extent. The best activities are those that can be repeated at a high volume.
2. It is not fun. Deliberate practice is often done solo since there are more available hours to practice alone. If practicing alone, relentlessly, intensely focused on a single task does not appeal to you, then you are free from the burden of becoming world-class. Furthermore, the task that is being trained is something that we are not good at since it is the difficult activities that will make us better at what we do overall.
3. Teachers are a critical aspect. Even the best in the world have teachers and coaches that help guide their practice, offering feedback when necessary.
4. Deliberate practice is an all-out effort of focus and concentration. This premise makes great performance mental over physical since the best are able to sustain deliberate practice for several hours a day. Still, 2-3 sessions at 4-5 hours per day seem to be the upper limit for deliberate practice, regardless of activity (sport, music, business, etc.).
October 1, 2016
Greatness is mostly mental due to the difficulty of deliberate practice. This is why great competitors are always mentally strong, they have developed the deep character traits necessary to do hard things over and over again.
The ability to do hard things, consistently, is becoming much more rare- and valuable. Top organizations such as Google, Mobile, and Microsoft are limited by their human abilities and capacities. They have the capital for growth but can only expand at the pace of their people.
World Class used to be non-essential but in today’s global, interconnected market, businesses and individuals must rise to compete against the world’s best at all times.
Traditional markers of excellence, such as IQ, is no longer relevant. It doesn’t show a person’s ability to work through tough problems, to persist and to endure deliberate practice.
IQ doesn’t measure critical thinking, social skills, honesty, tolerance, wisdom, work capacity, discipline, and EQ (self-control, zeal, and persistence).
Best performers do extremely well with the ability to engage in cognitively complex forms of multivariate reasoning. – Geoff Colvin
CRAVE THE PROCESS. EMBRACE THE PAIN.
→ Jack Welch’s Four Es at GE: Energy, Ability to Energize, Edge (decisiveness), and Ability to Execute.
→ Jerry Rice’s (insanely) intense work ethic that gave him the endurance to outlast more physically gifted NFL players.
The difference is not innate talent, it is the willingness to do what others won’t. The edge in high performance is the ability to endure pain. The ability to put oneself in an uncomfortable situation, continuously, so that performance can improve marginally. Great performers isolate specific aspects of what they do and they work on that aspect relentlessly, relentlessly, relentlessly.
After many years of deliberate practice, the brain and body begin to change. This is where effortlessness emerges. It is when great performers are recognized as “special,” “talented,” or “superhuman.” What many do not see is the years of painstaking effort that went into the process.
→ No one ever sees or appreciates the process.
This is why great performers will always stand out. Remember, if it was easy, everyone would do it and the best would be no different from the rest.
But it’s not easy. It is deliberate practice.
The ability to cultivate talent is a never-ending pursuit:
“In the Knowledge resides the Power”