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Talent Is Overrated

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Talent Is Overrated

What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Talent still matters, but deliberate practice trumps it. Why focus and hard work matter more than innate ability.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


Author Geoff Colvin rejects the popular notion that the genius of a Tiger Woods, a Mozart or a Warren Buffett is inborn uniquely to only a few individuals. He cites research that refutes the value of precocious, innate ability and he provides numerous examples of the intensely hard work that high achievement demands. Best performers’ intense, “deliberate practice” is based on clear objectives, thorough analysis, sharp feedback, and layered, systematic work. getAbstract finds that Colvin makes his case clearly and convincingly. He shows readers how to use hard work and deliberate practice to improve their creative achievements, their work and their companies. The author’s argument about the true nature of genius is very engaging, but, in the end, he makes it clear that the requirements of extraordinary achievement remain so stringent that society, after all, turns out to have very few geniuses. Colvin admits that the severe demands of true, deliberate practice are so painful that only a few people master it, but he also argues that you can benefit from understanding the nature of great performance. Perhaps, he says, the real gift of genius is the capacity for determined practice. You can improve your ability to create and innovate once you accept that even talent isn’t a free ticket to great performance. It takes work.


Where Are the Wellsprings of Great Performance?

As you listen to Mozart’s music, you may wonder about the nature of his genius. As you watch Tiger Woods accumulate triumphs beyond anything golf has seen before, maybe you also ponder the images of him as a toddler wielding golf clubs with shocking skill. Are geniuses on this level born with a talent that makes amazing results easy for them? If you ask regular folks to explain how the great figures of art, business, athletics and science acquired their gifts, they are bound to say that God or nature gave these stars an almost unnatural level of talent and skill. However, recent studies have shown that great performance is less reliant on talent than you might assume. Researchers find that extreme high achievers fill their lives with focused, intelligent, well-chosen hard work and practice, not just in spurts, but repeatedly, over and over. These great talents strive to improve their performance throughout their lives.

Mozart and Tiger Woods were prodigies, but they both worked prodigiously hard as children. Directed, focused childhood work and practice also feature strongly in Warren Buffett’s biography. He...

About the Author

American journalist Geoff Colvin is a senior editor at large for Fortune magazine. He is a frequent public speaker, and TV and radio guest. He appears on the CBS Radio Network daily and co-anchored Wall Street Week on PBS for three years.

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