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Posted by: YPN South Bend on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated

By George Cressy, III, Ladue, Curran & Kuehn

Colvin’s deep dive into what makes world-class performers provides the vocabulary and conceptual framework you need to think and talk about “talent.” With ample citations to studies, Colvin presents the path to elite-level performance in any field, achievable by any person. While instilling one of the strongest senses of “yes, I can,” Colvin wonderfully explains why both common answers to "Why aren’t people all around me awesomely, amazingly, world-class excellent?" are dead wrong; it is not because of 1) hard work or 2) God-given gifts.

It’s not because I have a deep narcissist streak that I now believe I could be a chess Grandmaster and that I will be Michiana’s premier real-estate attorney. The wonder of “talent” has vanished; Mozart’s, Jordan’s, Kasparov’s and Welch’s abilities are primarily the result of deliberate practice (a term I hope a few readers recognize as Anders Ericsson’s).

The gist of Colvin’s message is: “talent” (as an innate trait) probably doesn’t exist, and if it does, it’s probably irrelevant. A bold claim, yes.

Mozart, history’s original child prodigy, often comes to the refuting mind, and Colvin elucidates the history. Wolfgang was born to a famous composer and performer, Leopold. A domineering father who started young Wolfgang on a program of intensive training in composition and performing at age three, Leopold was also deeply interested in the study of how music was taught to children. Leopold was apparently only a so-so musician, but he was a highly accomplished pedagogue—can you even believe it? Also, Wolfgang did not produce original compositions until he was 21 years old, having 18 years of expert training. Last, it turns out he did not compose entire works in his mind. Manuscripts show he was constantly revising and rewriting entire sections, jotting small pieces down to be referenced months and years later.

What about Tiger? His father, Earl, was a young men’s teacher and had a lifelong passion for sports. Tiger was born into Earl’s second family, when Earl was retired and had lots of time to teach. And Tiger had professional coaching at age four, and never let up.

And beyond the anecdotal narrative, hundreds of studies during this age of genomic research have failed to identify talents in our genetic code.

I’ll leave it to Colvin to explain what deliberate practice is and isn’t but suffice it to say deliberate practice is not work and it is not play. Deliberate practice is designed, and it is not much fun. The point of deliberate practice, contrasted against thoughtless repetition, is to continuously seek out that realm of performance just beyond your current abilities, i.e., always be trying to do those things you’re not good at.

The upside of that downer is that most people won’t do it. Your willingness to deliberately practice your trade is what will truly distinguish you from your peers.

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