I've been ranting and raving about the myth of talent and the reality of practice for the last couple years. It's been a hot button for me — one that gets pushed a lot these days.
Now Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor at Large for Fortune, and one of the most respected business journalists writing today, has done all of us a great service by writing a book on the topic, entitled Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. While there are still a couple months left in 2008, it's likely that this gem will be my pick for the best business book of the year. It's a brilliant piece of work, and it deserves to be studied by anyone involved in human development.
Colvin's new book actually grew out of an assignment at Fortune. A couple years ago he was asked to contribute a piece for a special issue on great performance in business. "The resulting article," according to Colvin, "provoked a more intense response than anything else I've written." It is meticulously written, and the assertions made in the book are based on rigorous scientific research. The principal researcher who informs many of the findings discussed in the book is Professor K. Anders Ericsson, Conradi Eminent Scholar at Florida State University. Ericsson and his colleagues have been conducting study after study on expert performance for over thirty years, and their work may just revolutionize how leaders are developed in the future. At least, I hope so.
Colvin's provocative title neatly summarizes the premise of his book. Here are a few of the key messages from Talent Is Overrated:
- Natural gifts and talents, if they exist at all, aren't what we think they are and they are not enough to explain world-class performance in chess, music, ballet, medicine, golf, business, or any other endeavor.
- Staggeringly high IQs also don't characterize the great performers. Sometimes they champions have higher than average intelligence, but in many instances they are just average.
- Years of experience don't necessarily make someone a high-performer, let alone the greatest performer. And, as startling as it might sound, sometimes more years of experience can mean poorer performance compared to those newly graduated in a specialty.
- If natural talent, high IQ, and even years of experience don't explain greatness, then what does? The factor that best explains great performers is what the researchers call "deliberate practice."
- Colvin admits that "Deliberate practice is a large concept, and to say that it explains everything would be simplistic and reductive." Therefore, if we are going to become experts in anything, it's essential that we understand what deliberate practice is and what it isn't. What most of us do when we "practice," it turns out, often does not lead to great performance at all, and it may just contribute to being mediocre and could even make us worse.
Colvin does a superb job of providing us with insights into what deliberate practice is, what it isn't, and how it works. He also applies the concepts to our personal lives, our organizations, and to innovation. In blogs over the next couple weeks, I'll share with you some of the key components of deliberate practice and propose ways in which we can apply these concepts to the development of leaders. In the meantime, if you'd like to join me in the dialogue, I urge you to read Talent Is Overrated. I'm certain it will influence how you think about what you can do to become a better leader and what you can do to develop those with whom you work. If you aspire to world-class performance, this will be time well spent.
Posted y Jim Kouzes