Talent Is Overrated: A book review by Bob Morris

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
Geoff Colvin
The Penguin Group (2008)

Colvin set out to answer this question: “What does great performance require?” In this volume, he shares several insights generated by hundreds of research studies whose major conclusions offer what seem to be several counterintuitive perspectives on what is frequently referred to as “talent.” (See Pages 6-7.) In this context, I am reminded of Thomas Edison’s observation that “vision without execution is hallucination.” If Colvin were asked to paraphrase that to indicate his own purposes in this book, my guess (only a guess) is that his response would be, “Talent without deliberate practice is latent” and agrees with Darrell Royal that “potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.”

In other words, there would be no great performances in any field (e.g. business, theatre, dance, symphonic music, athletics, science, mathematics, entertainment, exploration) without those who have, through deliberate practice developed the requisite abilities. Colvin’s point (and I agree) is that all great performers “make it look so easy” because of their commitment to deliberate practice, often for several years before their first victory. In fact, Colvin cites a “ten-year rule” widely endorsed in chess circles (attributed to Herbert Simon and William Chase) that “no one seemed to reach the top ranks of chess players without a decade or so of intensive study, and some required much more time.”

Colvin’s insights offer a reassurance that almost anyone’s performance can be improved, sometimes substantially, even if it isn’t world-class. Talent is overrated if it is perceived to be the most important factor. It isn’t. In fact, talent does not exist unless and until it is developed…and the only way to develop it is (you guessed it) with deliberate practice. When Ben Hogan was asked the “secret” to playing great golf, he replied, “It’s in the dirt.”

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