603 of 626 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2009
I inhaled this book. The informal plan was to read it over a few short weeks. Instead I plowed through it in maybe three days.
For those teetering on the edge of greatness -- or thinking about really going for the gusto, in whatever field or endeavor that has captured their spirit -- this book is an invitation to walk among the gods.
For those who have soured on their dreams and bitterly written them off, however, this book will be painful. It might even read like a damning indictment, and thus incite a hostile emotional response.
And finally, this book also has the potential to be terrifying. For those who feel the pull of greatness but also wrestle with a deep-seated fear of failure, the starkness of the choice will be revealed to them in these pages.
Why? Because Colvin's deeper message, beyond the powerful insights into "Deliberate Practice" and what it can do, is that there is no excuse. Whatever it is you like (or love) to do, the fact that you don't hate it means you probably have the basic tools -- and so there's no reason you can't get better, maybe a lot better. And so, at the end of the day, there is simply no real excuse for not being great. Only the classic Bartleby the Scrivener response: "I prefer not to."
Greatness requires dedication and sacrifice, period. Being good at something requires a fair amount... being great requires a huge amount. If you truly desire greatness -- or simply to be great at what you do -- then much sacrifice is required.
But I fudge slightly. The book does leave room for one excuse of sorts, but not a very satisfying one. In some cases of highly competitive endeavor, wunderkinds (like Mozart and Tiger Woods) have built up a nearly insurmountable "time in the saddle" advantage via taking up the hard work of Deliberate Practice (which I shall from here on out refer to as DP) at an astonishingly young age.
Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps has analogized his hard training to putting credits in the bank. DP is like a disciplined investing program -- the longer you do it, the more compounding you see, and it takes many years up front to get to a point of real momentum. This makes it all but impossible in certain prodigy-dominated arenas to come to the game late and try to catch someone who has been continuously working their butt off from, say, age twelve. (Or in Tiger and Mozart's case, age three.)
My personal experience with DP -- which I practice in the world of trading and investing -- is that it's a lot like running. The brain is like a muscle, or rather a group of muscles, that has to be built up, like legs and heart and lungs for the runner, if a rigorous DP program is to be sustained.
This is another reason why getting into DP is so hard for the average individual. People don't intuitively grasp the concept that the brain is like a muscle... that you have to strengthen your cognitive control and tighten up your executive functions before you can become a powerhouse.
Nobody starts out on a running program from a dead stop and assumes they'll be able to run three marathons every week. They build up to it, and work on ways to overcome the initial physical pain and resistance that act as a barrier before "runner's high" kicks in and positive addiction carries them through.
It's a similar dynamic with DP. Many people fail in their early quest for excellence, I suspect, because the mind flags and the will tires, and instead of taking this as a normal part of the training process -- like being winded in the early stages of a running program -- they decide they can't hack it and quietly slip back into mediocrity.
Another thing I liked about this book is how it puts talent in the proper context. Is it true that talent is overrated? Well, yes. Based on these findings, absolutely. But that doesn't mean talent plays no role in success. It simply means that having some modicum of talent (whether imparted by genes or favorable early developments) is often a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for success. That lack of sufficiency, i.e. talent alone not being "enough," or even anywhere close to enough, is an absolutely critical point.
It's a further interesting quirk that too much talent can even be an impediment, in certain cases, if the obvious presence of said talent convinces the individual that it's okay to shirk on DP. It's no statistical accident, for example, that the less flashy "work horses" of the baseball and basketball worlds tend to have longer careers than their flashier co-players, thanks to a tighter regime of working hard on the fundamentals to make up for lesser natural gifts. And it seems like we all know someone who had a great knack for playing guitar or piano by ear in high school, but couldn't be bothered to put in the sweat equity of trying to develop it into something more.
Now, go forth and get on the path to greatness.
549 of 578 people found the following review helpful
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.
It occurs to me that, however different they may be in almost all other respects, athletes such as Cynthia Cooper, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Lorena Ochoa, Candace Parker, Michael Phelps, Vijay Singh, and Tiger Woods "make it look so easy" in competition because their preparation is so focused, rigorous, and thorough. Obviously, they do not win every game, match, tournament, etc. 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." The same could also be said of "overnight sensations" who struggled for years to prepare for their "big break" on Broadway or in Hollywood.
Colvin duly acknowledges that deliberate practice "is a large concept, and to say that it explains everything would be simplistic and reductive." Colvin goes on to say, "Critical questions immediately present themselves: What exactly needs to be practiced? Precisely how? Which specific skills or other assets must be acquired? The research has revealed answers that generalize quite well across a wide range of fields." Even after committing all of my time and attention to several years of deliberate practice, under the direct supervision of the best instructor (e.g. Hank Haney, Butch Harman, or David Leadbetter) I probably could not reduce my handicap to zero but I could lower it under those conditions. 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."
Others have their reasons for thinking so highly of this book. Here are three of mine. First, Colvin's observations and suggestions are research-driven rather than based almost entirely on theories developed in isolation from real-world phenomena. He commits sufficient attention to identifying the core components of great performance but focuses most of his narrative to explaining how almost anyone can improve her or his own performance. He reveals himself to be both an empiricist as he shares what he has observed and experienced and a pragmatist who is curious to know what works, what doesn't, and why. I also appreciate Colvin's repudiation of the most common misconceptions about the various dimensions of talent. For example, that "is innate; you're born with it, and if you're not born with it, you can't acquire it." Many people still believe that Mozart was born with so much talent that he required very little (if any) development. In fact, according to Alex Ross, "Mozart became Mozart by working furiously hard" as did all others discussed, including Jack Welch, David Ogilvy, Warren Buffett, Robert Rubin, Jerry Rice, Chris Rock, and Benjamin Franklin. Some were prodigies but most were late-bloomers and each followed a significantly different process of development. About all they shared in common is their commitment to continuous self-improvement through deliberate practice.
Here's another reason I hold this book in such high regard. Throughout his narrative, Colvin inserts clusters of insights and recommendations that literally anyone can consider and then act upon to improve her or his individual performance as well as helping to improve the performance of a team of which she or he is a member. For example:
1. Attributes of deliberate practice (Pages 66-72)
2. What top performers perceive that others do not notice (Pages 89-94)
3. Benefits of having a "rich mental model"(Pages 123-124)
4. Rules for peak performance that "elite" organizations follow (Pages 128-136)
5. Misconceptions about innovation and creativity (Pages 149-151)
6. How innovators become great (Pages 159-161)
7. How to make organizations innovative (Pages 162-166)
8. What homes can teach organizations (Pages 172-175)
9. The "drivers" of great performance (Pages 187-193)
10. How some organizations "blow it" (Pages 194-198)
Colvin provides a wealth of research-driven information that he has rigorously examined and he also draws upon his own extensive and direct experience with all manner of organizations and their C-level executives. Throughout his narrative, with great skill, he sustains a personal rapport with his reader. It is therefore appropriate that, in the final chapter, he invokes direct address and poses a series of questions. "What would cause you to do the enormous work necessary to be a top-performing CEO, Wall Street trader, jazz, pianist, courtroom lawyer, or anything else? Would anything? The answer depends on your answers to two basic questions: What do you really want? And what do you really believe? What you want - really want - is fundamental because deliberate practice is a heavy investment." Corbin has provided all the evidence anyone needs to answer those two questions that, in fact, serve as a challenge.
Colvin leaves no doubt that by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better...and that includes his reader. This reader is now convinced that talent is a process that "grows," not a pre-determined set of skills. Also, that deliberate practice "hurts but it works." Long ago, Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." It would be "tragically constraining," Colvin asserts, for anyone to lack sufficient self-confidence because "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 to everyone."
855 of 946 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2008
This book is substantially a suspicious rehash of a major peer reviewed article. Colvin and Gladwell Outliers: The Story of Success are chasing the same topic, incredibly within the same few months and referencing the same research. Albeit with different titles and stories. Colvin does a good job giving credit to that author. The problems begin when Colvin starts to take parts of the research and explode the number of pages dedicated to one point -deliberate practice. And while that point, deliberate practice is important, it is one of several ingredients in the making of an expert. In the paper "Making of an expert" by K. Anders Ericsson and others, Harvard Business Review, July 2007 they detail three well accepted conditions:
1. Delibrate Practice - the author sites verbatim with strong emphasizes
2. World class coaching - Important but not emphasized well
3. Enthusiastic family support - Very important and not emphasized well
And obviously the expert-to-be needs to be motivated. What is disturbing is Covin doesn't give much credit (wrongly) in terms of pages, to the support environment namely families and coaches. Ok, there are passing paragraphs but no where near the emphasis it should be according to the original researchers. Intuitively, as well as deep in all parents hearts, they know those new champions/experts had to have great parents. Think of Tiger Woods (Golf), the Mannings (NFL) and Obama to name a few. The deliberate practice condition also encompasses the 10,000 hours requirement in becoming an expert whether that is business, music or sports to name a few endeavors. This translates into roughly what I call the 4/6/10 phenomena - 4 hours a day, 6 days a week for 10 years. Taking a few weeks off a year helps recovery so its about 1000 hours per year.
Of the three conditions, enthusiastic family support seems to be the catalyst for the other two. That article is well written and easy to read. You can go to the HBR site and pick it up for $7. There are excellent peer reviewed references in that article worth reading. One of the key references is available at this site The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. It may be a little more academic but if you already have read "The making of an expert" and want more, than this is it.
51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2010
True enough, the book illustrates case after case where world-class performance springs, not from some innate ability possessed at birth, but rather via effective practice. The author reaches into various disparate fields of endeavor to prove this point--golf (Tiger Woods), composing (both Mozart and the Beatles), chess (the Polgar sisters), stand-up comedy (Chris Rock), and others. Mr. Colvin bolsters this pattern by showing how, repeatedly, ten years of concerted effort preceded the respective breakthroughs for the individuals cited.
However--and this is where I find this thesis lacking--Mr. Colvin fails to explain the thousands of people who put in just as much effort, tried just as hard, and had the same teachers and mentors as those who achieved notable performance. For every Olympic champion, there are thousands who invested just as much practice time, who persevered through the same challenges, as those who won the gold. Thousands of garage bands who spent all of their waking hours searching for that big hit. Thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands, of corporate workers, toiling in excess of sixty hours a week, aspiring to be regional manager, let alone CEO. Why have these hundreds of thousands, or shall we say, millions, not achieved their goals? This book would lead the reader to believe it was purely the quality of one's preparation. Balderdash. This book is totally lacking in explaining why some achieve these heights, while most toil in obscurity.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2009
The author would lead you to believe that most of us have the ability to become a world class NFL receiver like Jerry Rice or composer of Mozart's stature through "deliberate practice". Deliberate practice is practice that is focused on the areas in your domain where there is the greatest need for improvement. It is not simply practice makes perfect; it is the kind of practice; it is designed practice that makes perfect. For aspiring pianists, it is hours of solo practice, not group practice, not concerts, but solo practice - and it is not fun. For Jerry Rice it was mountain running and weight training to build up his pattern running ability and durability.
I enjoyed reading Talent Is Overrated. I believe its main thesis of "deliberate practice" is a very useful concept for educators and parents alike. However, I believe the case for key considerations outside of practice - such as natural talents or inclinations - is understated. For example, Jerry Rice is six foot two and he used every inch of that height and reach to make some of the greatest football receptions ever. Most kids are not genetically predisposed to be someday six foot two and all the deliberate practice in the world will not change that.
Perhaps a better, but less engaging title for this book would be " Practice Is Underrated". In any case I found the book's main thesis of deliberate practice to make for worthwhile and enjoyable reading.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2011
I will focus this review on the differences between "Talent is Overrated" and "The Talent Code." Some reviewers argue that Talent Code is the better book, but after reading both I will say that each book, although coming to the same conclusions, offers different information. They are both useful and I believe you will get a better understanding of the topic if you read the two books.
I read "The Talent Code" first, which focuses more on the science behind super-achievers, particularly focusing on the process that our brains use to become extremely good at certain things. In The Talent Code, there's a lot of talk about the science of "myelin," the super-insulating substance that has recently been discovered and plays a major role in our understanding of memory and how humans acquire skills.
In the Talent Code you will learn about the three stages of skill aquisition, which are:
The talent code focuses a lot more on what is the difference between normal, average practice and deep, dedicated practice. There's also a bigger section on the role of coaching.
Talent Is Overrated is, on the other hand, easier to read and focuses more on the wider applications of the new findings on inner ability (talent) versus dedicated practice, which both authors agree is the true secret to success.
For example, Talent is Overrated discusses how these ideas can be applied in the field of business or in our personal lives, not just if you intend to become a world-class violinist or tennis player.
Talent is Overrated has a more interesting discussion on how this new paradigm can be applied to influence education and raising extraordinary children.
I would say overall that Talent is Overrated is the more "fun" book to read, with more examples and stories, while "The Talent Code" is the more in-depth manual on the subject. If you find this subject fascinating, you should get both books and you will get more out of it that way.
To conclude I found Talent is Overrated an inspiring read that gave me great insights on how I can become a better, more accomplished person.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2009
Geoff Colvin's book,"Talent Is Overrated" is a great "myth buster". The two salient points are: 1. Deliberate practice leads to great achievement and 2. Sticking to one domain (field of endeavor) increases the chances for great achievement over changing careers into disparate professions. Colvin makes a compelling case for deliberate practice using case studies of well- known athletes and musicians.
The challenge with "Talent is Overrated" is that is loses its effectiveness by attempting to communicate with two separate audiences with different agendas: Aspiring peak performers and corporate heads. The book empowers aspiring peak performers with a blueprint for phenomenal achievement and in the same breath attempts to encourage corporations to apply similar methodology to its employees. The disconnection is trying to assuage what is fundamentally an individual endeavor with a collective process. It's unlikely that Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE would have the same commitment and regard for GE employees as Earl Woods had for his son, golf phenom, Tiger Woods. In addition, the pay off isn't the same. The peak performer "self-actualizes" while the corporate dweller "may" position himself for a corporate suite. The case is lost and the book slightly tarnished when it attempts to "stretch" the case. At that point, it seems Colvin was setting himself up as a business consultant to multinational companies in the vein of Jim Collins of "Built to Last" fame. Colvin's initial analysis is solid enough for corporations to pick up without the extra marketing.
Overall, "Talent is Overrated" is an excellent book among the pantheon of ideas on peak performance. It fits right into the current political theme of personal responsibility and accountability. It's truly a book of its time.
Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
I have always held that talent is a multiplier of work rather than the decisive factor in accomplishment and success. By this I mean that someone whose has a high level of talent, say a 10, and an average level of work, a 5, is going to accomplish at a level of 50. While a person of a level 7 talent who works very hard, a level 10, will outperform them at a level of 70. I have seen this borne out again and again in my life.
Geoff Colvin says that it isn't talent or hard work that are the deciding factors in achieving great performance, but a specific kind of focus when developing and practicing your skills. He calls it deliberate practice. Highly successful people not only practice a lot and work very hard at it, but they also have the ability to focus on what it is that must be practiced and how to work at it. And they can do this even though it is not particularly enjoyable and can, in fact, be painful.
Colvin argues that what we often point to as talent, say, for playing a musical instrument or any specific skill really doesn't exist. When high performers are examined there is little consistent evidence that being a prodigy is a strong predictor of later success. Even Mozart and Tiger Woods, were less about a Divine Spark and more about who their father's were, the focused training they received, and the immense amount of deliberate practice they put in. The author shows us how Jerry Rice worked six days per week during the off season to develop his abilities. Rice identified areas that mattered to his success and developed them systematically. He worked on developing his cardiovascular strength in the mornings, weight training in the afternoons, and those who joined him to see what is was like ended up feeling sick. These people tried to jump into a practice regimen that Rice had built up over years. No wonder they couldn't keep up! Deliberate practice requires building up abilities through repetition after repetition after repetition regardless of how you feel about doing it at any given time.
This repetition provides you with a level of familiarity and insight that others will not possess. While it may appear to be talent or luck, it is really based on becoming so familiar with the tasks involved and knowing at every moment what is going on. The book also takes you through how to apply it to your own life and in your business.
The multiplier idea I have long held is discussed on page 198 in very similar terms to my own. I also agree with him when he says, "What you really believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation for all you will ever achieve." Colvin is honest that great achievement has a high price, a price most people are not willing to pay. However, even if you aren't aiming at greatness, you can still use these ideas to improve and accomplish more.
I think this is right. However, can I note that I think that insight to know what the right practice is and the capacity for that level of work is also a talent, is it not?
May 2009 revision. After thinking about this book a bit more, I want to push back a bit on the notion of someone like a Mozart being just a more focused worker. Or that there are more gifted prodigies today. Bunk. Point me to the body of work created by the hard working musicians who did their "deliberate" practice and created a body of work like Mozart? I think Haydn would be a much better example of the kind of thing the book is aiming at, but the general public doesn't know Haydn so well anymore. The musicologist the author cites trying to bring Mozart down to earth is only a musicologist, and not the final word on Mozart. While it is true that Mozart was not not as popular in his day as he is today, the people of real musical sophistication, Haydn above all, knew his worth. The public is always a poor barometer of artistic worth. Haydn's work is just as wonderful as it was a century ago, or two centuries ago, but the public doesn't esteem it as it should. Is Haydn less than he once was? No. We don't judge the art, our reaction to it judges us. The reputations of Mozart and Haydn were just about opposite a century ago than they are today. In reality, they are both musicians of inestimable worth and deserve our constant attention and careful study. Remember, this book is really about averages and statistics. You are an individual, not a statistic. The capacity for focused work is indeed a talent and one you can develop like any other. If you want something, go after it with your heart and soul.
Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2009
This book offers a proposition that is both motivating and sobering: If you want to be a great success you needn't worry about your gentics, background, or even IQ. The secret to success isn't a secret: deliberate practice - which means mindful, involved practice of your craft.
So why doesn't everyone do it? Because its damn hard...that's the sobering part.
He also shatters myths about creativity - the poet or musician who sits on a hillside and in a flash from the muse creates a masterpiece. Creativity is just hard steady work - something most honest artists admit - and he dispels the two most famous myths in this department - Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and Mozart's symphonies.
caveats (or why its only 3 stars):
I understand, as a writer, presumably one who is looking to rake in corporate speaking and consulting fees, Colvin advocates a blank slate theory, but this flies in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In order to brush this aside, he creates a strawman argument about there not being a 'golf gene' or a 'chess gene' (for the latter example he cites a famous case of three daughters who were taught by their professor father to become grand master chess champions). Well, no one said there a chess gene, but the genes of a intelligent professor and his equally intelligent wife produced daughters capable of becoming grand chess masters- or grand mathematician for that matter. This professor, to my knowledge hasn't carried out the same experiment with children from sub Saharan africa. On the other hand, years of training from near birth has not resulted in one non-west african descended 100 meter sprinter in the finals of the last half dozen olympics - Russia and China who have created athletes of world class caliber in other fields have yet to touch this one.
This aside, Colvin does make a powerful case that hard MINDFUL work can make up for what you might lack in the genes department and leaves little excuse, except laziness and self choice, for not being the person you want to be and for that alone its worth reading.
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2011
This book would have made a decent magazine article. It does make some interesting points, which could be laid out in a few pages. But the author goes on and on, trying to stretch his hypothesis into this cleverly titled 200-plus page book, in a clear attempt to get into your wallet. Do yourself a favor, read the description and customer reviews, and you'll know everything there is to know about it. Save yourself a few bucks. You'll be glad you did.