Does Practice or Talent Predict Top Performance? A Recommendation of “Talent Is Overrated”

Does practice or talent predict top performance?  The answer is practice according to Geoff Colvin and his book Talent Is Overrated — What Really Separates World-class Performers from Everybody Else.   Geoff has written a great book that shows that great performance can be best explained by deliberate practice and not by talent (natural gifts).  Geoff does an outstanding job reporting how various research studies support this explanation for top performance.  Top performance cannot be explained by experience, inborn abilities, or general abilities like IQ or memory.  In fact, several studies showed that experience was negatively correlated with medical knowledge for doctors and ability to detect corporate fraud by auditors.

Geoff  reports one study in which researchers sought to find the source of talent in a music school in part because of a commonly held belief that singing, composing and playing instruments requires a special gift or talent.  The researchers looked at a number of factors including age, gender, instrument and socioeconomic class.  None of these correlated with top performance.  What they found was that one factor — and only one factor — predicted performance — the amount of time that the students practiced.  The best determiner of a student’s “talent” was how much he or she practiced.

According to Geoff, talent is a natural ability to do something better than most people can do it.  You are born with it or not.  If not, you can’t acquire it.   In contrast, deliberate practice is “actively designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally; … and it isn’t much fun.”   (see also Secret Ingredient of Success which underscores the importance of continuous, honest feedback).   Geoff explains that deliberate practice is valuable because it enable top performers to “understand the significance of indicators that average performers don’t even notice… look further ahead…know more from seeing less…”  Geoff explains in greater detail how deliberate practice leads to these abilities.

Throughout the book, Geoff provides examples of how deliberate practice led to top performance including stories about

So I’m a believer.  I am definitely a “Talent is Overrated” convert.  I think that if there is such a thing as a natural talent, it might be the ability to commit to deliberate practice even though it is hard work.   I also believe that most forms of practice will yield positive results and that deliberate practice will yield the best results.  And that is one of the reasons that I write this blog….(see “10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer” )

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  • Nathan S. Gibson

    Nathan S. Gibson is an independent worker compliance business partner who provides expertise and creative solutions to enhance workforce flexibility and maintain compliance. He helps mitigate the risks associated with the misclassification of self-employed consultants, freelancers and independent contractors.

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