I have some great news! It turns out, you’re not talented. Why’s that great? Because, it doesn’t matter.
Photo courtesy of graur codrin
I’m almost finished reading Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and it’s helped broaden my perspective regarding talent, success, exceptional achievement, and the myth of talent.
The Myth of Talent
Talent is generally seen as an innate ability; a gift you’re born with – you either have it or you don’t. We often attribute talent to people with exceptional abilities or use it as an excuse as to why we can or cannot be exceptional at a given ability. However, in Talent is Overrated, Colvin gives evidence that talent either doesn’t exist or if it does, it has little to do with exceptional achievement. Instead, exceptional ability or success is due to “deliberate practice” in the learning zone; not just a couple months of hard work, but years. In fact, on average it takes a minimum of 10 years of deliberate practice until the characteristics of great achievement are evident.
Mozart and Tiger Woods
So what about Mozart or Tiger Woods who are usually thought of as child prodigies? Neither turn out to have innate abilities or talent.
Mozart’s father was a master composer. The early works of Mozart, such as his symphony at age 4 and first concerto at age 7, weren’t written in his handwriting and were heavily influenced and corrected by his father. Mozart didn’t start his masterpieces until his mid twenties and leading up to those he wasn’t writing original work, but arranging the works of Bach, one of his mentors . So prior to Mozart becoming exceptional, he had at least 10 years of deliberate practice.
Tiger Woods’ story is similar. Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, was a Military instructor and taught young men. He had 3 kids and a marriage prior to Tiger. By the time Tiger was born, Earl had an extensive knowledge of children, effective teaching, and golf. At 8 months old, Tiger would sit and watch his dad hit golf balls for hours at a time putting him through deliberate practice. At the age of 4, Tiger was given professional instruction. While Tiger’s early achievements were noticeable, they weren’t exceptional, and it wasn’t until his later teens that Tiger started to show exceptional ability – more than 10 years after he had deliberate practice.
Mozart wasn’t born with a predisposition for music and Tiger didn’t have a gift for golf; both reached their exceptional ability through years of deliberate practice.
There’s countless other examples in Colvin’s book including the success of Jerry Rice, Bill Gates, chess masters and instrumental virtuosos. In all cases, if talent exists, deliberate practice plays a bigger role than any innate ability, genetic trait or intelligence (IQ).
Colvin doesn’t suggest that deliberate practice is the only factor to becoming great, but that it is evident in all cases. He credits the success of Mozart and Tiger to their fathers which he calls ‘luck’. So a part of the argument involves being ‘lucky’ to be surrounded by the right people, at the right time, in the right place.
If talent isn’t the answer for achieving exceptional abilities, we can no longer use it as an excuse, and greatness becomes a matter of choice. That is great, isn’t it?