Home > Books, Talent Management > Book Review- Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers and Everybody Else

Book Review- Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers and Everybody Else

Overrated_TalentHave you ever wondered what it took to be in the top 2%? To really achieve an elite level in a sport or a specific profession. What sets people like Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Jack Welch and Bill Gates apart from the rest of us? Well.. that is exactly the issue that author Geoff Colvin tackles in his 2008 book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.

What I really like about this book is not just its intuitively straight-forward and interesting message, but the knowledge shared is something any average Joe can utilize to help them understand what it takes to be a top performer and the level of commitment needed to take their “game” to the next level.

The Nuts & Bolts Overview

The gist of this book is that innate talent (whether “book smarts” or physical gifts) nor “hard work” guarantee success. In fact, the author points out several examples where despite these gifts, they have fallen short. Think about it in your own life experience. How many people do you know who have great physical gifts, but never became really successful in their sport? Or how about someone who works really hard day in and day out, but has never seen their career sky rocket? I know I’ve met some brilliant people, who’ve not really ever achieved their dream of starting their own business or achieving their own goals.

The fundamental premise of this book resides on a study conducted in the early 1990’s with a group of violinists. The study grouped the violinists into three categories: good, very good and best. They all agreed what made them good violinists was practice. And while they all knew it, they did not all practice the same amount of time. It’s no surprise the individuals placed in the “best” group had practiced thousands of hours more than their counterparts in the other groups (even before the age of 18). The same was true between the “very good” and “good groups.” What the study claimed was that “The difference between expert performers and normal adults reflect a lifelong period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain” – hence the term “Deliberate Practice” was born.

The author spends a great deal of time going through Deliberate Practice, how to apply it, and discusses the challenges in applying these principles in the workplace. In fact, the author points-out that many companies are not set-up to help their employees achieve top performance and why. And while companies can help to truly create an environment to build top performers, the responsibility and desire still need to come from the employee.

What is Deliberate Practice?

The book calls out a difference between “working hard” and Deliberate Practice. The key elements of Deliberate Practice include:

  1. activities designed to specifically improve performance (usually with the assistance of a teacher or coach)
  2. the activities practiced can be repeated a lot
  3. feedback is easily available and given frequently
  4. mentally demanding (regardless of if activity is intellectual or physical)
  5. practice is time consuming, difficult and not always fun

Certainly, Deliberate Practice takes the saying, “no pain, no gain” to a whole new level. Individual commitment is a factor in the success of deliberate practice as well.

Applying Deliberate Practice To Your Own Life

Whether you are an athlete, a student or someone looking to improve their lot at work, applying Deliberate Practice can help you reach those goals and be successful. However to achieve them, you must be willing to be 110% committed. The degree of commitment and the level of Deliberate Practice go hand and hand at defining your success. There are several ways the author suggests utilizing Deliberate Practice, which include:

  • Identify What You Want – As with any goal, the more clearly you can define what it is you want, the better off you can identify the skills you will need to build on.
  • Assess Your Level of Commitment – Deliberate Practice take up a significant amount of time and often comes with sacrifices and trade-offs. It is critical to know how much you want to achieve the levels you desire and at what cost(s).
  • Find a mentor/coach – by finding someone who has already done what you are interested in, they can advise you on the skills you must acquire to reach the desired levels. Additionally, they can provide timely feedback.
  • Practice Directly – Determine what elements you can practice repeatedly to improve (i.e. through general conditioning of necessary skills or specific skill development).
  • Set Process Based Goals – Set goals that are not necessarily about the outcome, but more about the process of achieving them. Create very technique focused tasks to meet those goals.

The Final Word

Overall, great read! Even if you don’t end up in the top 2% of your field, you can leverage many of the techniques and thoughts to improve yourself.

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