Professor Jeffrey Levine
December 2, 2009
Talent Is Overrated What Really Separates World- Class Performers from Everyone Else By. Geoff Colvin
Senior Editor at Large, FORTUNE
Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin is a motivating book that puts outstanding performance into view. 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 realistic value of the book comes from the practical function 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. 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.
Supportive on definition of innate talent
Before considering evidence for and against the talent account, we should be as clear as possible about what is meant by "talent". In everyday life people are rarely precise about what they mean by this term: users do not specify what form an innate talent takes or how it might exert its influence. Certain pitfalls have to be avoided in settling on a definition of talent. A very restrictive definition could make it impossible for any conceivable evidence to demonstrate talent. For example, some people believe that talent is based on an inborn ability that makes it certain that its possessor will excel. This criterion is too strong. At the other extreme, it would be possible to make the definition of talent so vague that its existence is trivially ensured; talent might imply no more than that those who reach high levels of achievement differ biologically from others in some undefined way. Yet those who believe that innate talent exists also assume that early signs of it can be used to predict future success. (1) There are many reports of children acquiring impressive skills very early in life, in the apparent absence of opportunities for the kinds of learning experiences that would normally be considered necessary. (2) Certain relatively rare capacities which could have an innate basis (e.g., "perfect" pitch perception) appear to emerge spontaneously in a few children and may increase the likelihood of their excelling in music. (3) Biological correlates of certain skills and abilities have been reported. (4) Some especially compelling data comes from the case histories of autistic, mentally handicapped people classified as "idiot’s savants."
Practice makes perfect
The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call "deliberate practice." Its activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition. For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don't get better. Hitting an...