Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
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Expanding on a landmark cover story in Fortune, a top journalist debunks the myths of exceptional performance.
One of the most popular Fortune articles in many years was a cover story called “What It Takes to Be Great.” Geoff Colvin offered new evidence that top performers in any field--from Tiger Woods and Winston Churchill to Warren Buffett and Jack Welch--are not determined by their inborn talents. Greatness doesn’t come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades.
And not just plain old hard work, like your grandmother might have advocated, but a very specific kind of work. The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness.
Now Colvin has expanded his article with much more scientific background and real-world examples. He shows that the skills of business—negotiating deals, evaluating financial statements, and all the rest—obey the principles that lead to greatness, so that anyone can get better at them with the right kind of effort. Even the hardest decisions and interactions can be systematically improved.
This new mind-set, combined with Colvin’s practical advice, will change the way you think about your job and career—and will inspire you to achieve more in all you do.
no statistically significant differences among the groups on this measure. That is, all three groups were getting up every morning and putting in the hours, throwing themselves at their chosen career in a fairly committed way with a demanding workweek equal to what a great many people clock in a wide range of fields. The violinists were quite certain which activity was most important for making them better: It was practicing by themselves. When asked to rate the relevance of twelve music-related
interesting in themselves but also, as we shall see, have much to teach us about great performance in business and other realms—and not in the old-fashioned winning-is-the-only-thing sense. We all know that sports records keep getting broken, but we generally don't appreciate just how dramatic the progress has been, or the reasons for it. For example, the Olympic records of a hundred years ago—representing the best performance of any human being on the planet—today in many cases equal ho-hum
remember where all the pieces are. The analogy can be carried further. You'll recall from our previous discussion of knowledge that the very best players know ten to a hundred times more than good club players. These chunks are the units of knowledge. Researchers estimate that good club players have a "vocabulary" of about 1,000 chunks, while the highest-ranked players have a vocabulary of 10,000 to 100,000. The chunk theory is compelling and valuable, and it can be applied very widely. But as an
right now. Many of the CEOs of these companies, when asked how they reached the top, tell similar stories about the importance of a few key mentors who consistently guided and helped them. Jeff Fettig, CEO of Whirlpool, is typical: "I am here today in part due to a handful of people who, before it was in vogue, provided coaching and mentoring to me early in my career. That helped me to develop." The other side of this coin is feedback. We've examined at length the importance of frequent, rapid,
disprove anything about the amount of work required for their achievements. But in summing up, he wrote, "I have been struck throughout this study by the operation of the ten-year rule. . .. Should one begin at age four, like Picasso, one can be a master by the teenage years; composers like Stravinsky and danc152 Performing Great at Innovation ers like Graham, who did not begin their creative endeavors until later adolescence, did not hit their stride until their late twenties." Not even the