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Customer Review

915 of 1,013 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Largely Based on HBR's "The Making of an Expert, July 2007, December 18, 2008
This review is from: Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (Hardcover)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 51 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 11, 2009 9:43:35 AM PST
Tom Coates says:
I routinely read the negative reviews first, although most of them are by people who didn't understand the book or wish the author had produced a different book. This is one of the rare cases that justifies skimming the other stuff -- a negative review that cuts to the heart of the author's argument. Pushy parents or supportive siblings are clearly very important. Consider Mozart, the Wrights, the DiMaggios, et al. I'll get the HBR article. Thanks, Robert.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 24, 2009 8:53:07 AM PST
speedbird57 says:

Posted on Jan 31, 2009 3:15:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 31, 2009 3:16:06 PM PST
Dave Yost says:
I have read the Harvard Business Review article, which is six pages of text. Rowntree makes it sound as if Colvin has simply cashed in on that six pages by padding it out to 224 pages with the addition of repetition and fluff. This is absurd.

When you're trying to learn a new approach to living your life, six pages of concise prose is only a start. You have to reexamine all of the beliefs and habits you have adopted over your lifetime in light of the new ideas. Reading 224 pages of elaboration with examples and analysis from different perspectives is a very efficient way to spend several hours doing that. In fact it qualifies as "deliberate practice". Colvin does an excellent job of filling out 224 pages.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 1, 2009 3:04:45 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 1, 2009 3:10:04 PM PST
Yost has missed the point along with Colvin. Colvin just didn't add fluff, he added stories and those stories seem valid and actually quite interesting. In those stories Colvin twisted the original work, thats the key point. The reader of the HBS article walks away with the true picture of real evidence. However, just reading Colvin or Gladwell, not so much. Yost also takes my recommendation out of context, the HBS article is a lead into that author's book which I pointed to in my review. And who says you have to write and read 100's of pages to have value. Take physics, there are millions of pages of hypothesis and equations. In some cases one equations such as E=MC2 can have more impact then a million pages of "stuff" or "fluff". But if you take the equation and leave off the "2", you get a totally different result, a wrong result. Bottom line, if you want entertainment read the Colvin book, if you want the real deal because you really want to improve based on world class research and evidence read the HBS article and their associated book.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 9, 2009 10:41:05 AM PDT
Re: Rountree's post. I really liked the book, but Rowntree's analysis is very welcome. We can all glean great information, but in the end "we don't know what we don't know". There is so much to human performance. I know violinists with scars on their necks from hours of practice and wrestlers who are considered "naturals" - yet their ears are so "cauliflowered" from hours of practice you start to realize that hours of work and familial support is the key. People continue to call them savants and naturals! What a slap in the face. Tiger Woods comes off as very stiff and robotic "I - like - to - golf". Obviously his father's insistence on him golfing from a young age supercedes the "natural talent" drivel over which people gush. People want fantasy and that makes them blind to the evidence...

Posted on Mar 20, 2009 8:12:46 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 20, 2009 9:41:41 AM PDT
There may not be enough pages devoted to World class coaching & Enthusiastic family support, but then 'enough emphasis' would have made the book blown up to 300 pages and more criticism of suspicious rehash ensued. This book serves the purpose of driving home the point 'talent is overrated'. One star is not justified for such a great book. How many people would be interested in reading a six to seven page scientific article with lingo like double blind test, control group etc and be inspired by it? I've tried to read a few Steven Pinkers books, they need a great amount of focus and concentration, so couldn't complete them. On the other hand, this book is an easy read,I completed it with in a week after putting my toddler to sleep at night. You can get it from your local library and read it for free.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2009 2:28:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 22, 2009 9:30:06 AM PDT
Ahh, easy, yes, everyone wants it easy and that my friends is a key point of the books topic. Talent is neither overrated or easy to acquire, in fact, as this book and Erricson state, its actually a very, very brutal road. On another note, people are getting confused about the title "talent is overrated". I suspect because it puts alot of people at ease that haven't really got anywhere - talent, that its well, overrated. That title is an attention getter because absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. All these authors Colvin, Gladwell and Ericsson are saying is that talent is not genetic, well it may be in a small part genetic, that it is won through deliberate practice, world class coaching and great families. You take out anyone of those ingredients and its like your dinner tonight, you've got a great steak but your eating it raw because you've forgot about another ingredient, a stove to cook it on - not a great proposition.And just a note that the article I refer to is in the Harvard Business Review and that journal is not a scientific journal but rather for business practitioners. Very easy to read, extremely well written.

Posted on Mar 30, 2009 3:57:24 PM PDT
Champ04 says:
I thouroughly enjoyed the book, espescially as it was my introduction to the specific area of deliberate practice. Had it not been for this book I might not have ever heard of the HBR article or Ericsson. So for that, in the least, I find it highly valuable.

But more to the point here, I dont think there was any harm in not focussing on the familial aspect. While it most certainly could be considered the pivotal influence in such cases as Tiger Woods and Mozart I dont find it quite so influential across the board. The book itself opens with the examples of Jeffery Immelt and Steven Ballmer who, it could be argued, needed no parental influence at all since it wasnt until after they had joined the workforce and enjoyed some time sluffing off that they began their quests of deliberate practice. They didnt start as children but the time invested payed off just as well. I doubt their child homelife had much influence in their becoming top CEOs. And since this book seemed to me to be geared toward a business minded audience I dont think the childhood family life is quite as relevant.

I would also add that there are a significant number of cases where the home life of a child who eventually became a great performer was far from the positive environment that it is suggested here is so important. As a former Olympic coach I can tell I have met and worked with many that do not meet this standard. Indeed, I think some research should be done on the exact opposite, where a child was raised in an environment that could be better classified as one of survival.
Obviously there ARE cases where an excellent series of advantages is paramount. I cant see how anyone wanting to be a female Olympic medalist could get there without such familial advantages but this is simply because that precise sport demands a woman peak well before the age of 20. Assuming the 10 year rule, you MUST start with the right family.

But female Olympians are a unique case and I dont find it indicative of life in general. I think the book was well balanced overall. The thing I took most from the book is the idea that we should not restrict ourselves with the mythical notion that those who achieve the greatest got there because of born in talents. This can be and is a very paralyzing thought process. I also think it should be noted that assuming too much influence of the family (or even expert coaching) can be just as paralyzing if one assumes that since they werent raised in the right family or have access to the best coaches that they are restricted from the pursuit of high achievement. I dont find this to be the case at all.

I've now read this book, the HBR article, and other papers by Ericsson and I still find this book very valuable and would (and will) recommend it to many friends and peers.

Posted on Jul 2, 2009 7:57:19 PM PDT
I like this comment simply for the fact that it itself rovided a couple of intersting points (4/6/10 phenomena) AND it gave me a couple of more leads to some great resources. I thank Rowntree for his valuable input. I greatly appreciate it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 17, 2009 4:49:56 AM PDT
Great review

As the williams sisters prove and the wise reviewer points out; greatness requires; a LOT hard work/practice, a great family and a great coach.

Tks for the heads up on the HBR article Robert.

Phil McNally
Book: 'Winning Mentality - 7 Mind Techniques used by Winners'
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