Review – Talent is Overrated (Colvin)

Talent Is Overrated

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin. Portfolio, 2008.

Where does talent come from? Nature or nurture? A study of music students found no difference in starting point, but that practice made the difference. "A few [researchers] contend that the very existence of talent is not, as they carefully put it, supported by evidence."

The key is deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is designed to improve performance, by repetition, with feedback, working in "the learning zone." Your goal is to deepen your domain knowledge.

This book is one of the ones that popularizes the meme of "talent comes from 10,000 hours of deliberate practice." For those of us who are aging, the news is mixed: it takes longer to learn, but excellent performers needn't decline in their area of expertise. (That argues for developing varied expertise, I guess.)

Finally, if practice is key, what keeps us practicing? We have to develop intrinsic motivation. The work can help us overcome our supposed limitations.

This book was a very readable introduction, and made a compelling case. I'll close with a quote: "The price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high… what the evidence shouts most loudly is striking liberating news: that great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and everyone."

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