Book Review – Talent Is Overrated

“Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin is an inspirational book that puts exceptional performance into perspective. 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 thesis of the book reminds me of a theme that I heard many years ago from Albert E. N. Gray called the “Common Denominator Of Success.” Successful people do the things that failures don’t like to do. It is not that successful people necessarily like doing them any more than anyone else, but rather that, by doing the things that unsuccessful people don’t like to do, they are able to get the results that come from doing those things.

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.

The practical value of the book comes from the practical application 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.

The book is very readable and very entertaining, stocked with examples that anyone can relate to. The book itself will not make great performers or great organizations. The ideas in the book may, however, free the reader from the bondage of the talent or hard work myths. It is worthwhile for anyone to digest if they want to move beyond stagnation.

While everyone will not choose to make the sacrifice to be truly great at what they do, Colvin ends with the encouraging conclusion that great performance isn’t reserved for the pre-ordained few. “By understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better.”

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