book review

5 lessons from...Talent is overrated

This week we're reading...Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

by Geoff Colvin

Why was I so impressed by Talent is Overrated? Well, not only is it very well written and carefully researched, but, most strikingly, it really makes you wonder not only where your limits are, but whether there even is such a thing as a limit to one's greatness.
 
If success determines how happy a person is, then what can you do to help bring it about for those you love, and for yourself?
 
It really gets you thinking. How great could I be at something just by being more deliberate? How great might my future children be if I help them practise in the right way? One of the most fascinating examples in the book was the Grandmaster Experiment conducted by Laszlo Polgar, a Hungarian psychologist, who raised his three daughters to be chess prodigies. It's a brilliant example of how deliberate practice works and you can read about it here.
 

Here are the 5 lessons I learned from the book.

 
"People get extremely good at something because they work hard at it”.
Most of us tend to think that when someone's great at something it is because they have a gift for it, in a way assuming their greatness was given to them, beyond reasons we can explain. We think that you either have it or you don't. And that if you don't, then you are just bound to fail and not be good enough, so you should just give up altogether. If we really were a natural at something we would have known it by now, right? Why worry then? This explanation couldn't be further from the truth. "Great performance is in our hands far more than most of us ever suspected."
 
In today's business world the "scarce resource is no longer money, it's human ability."
Successful organisations understand that their achievements are essentially built upon the quality of human capital. Their core competency isn't financial knowledge, or software, or innovation, it's the people they hire and develop. Companies today are under unrivalled pressure to ensure that their employees are as highly developed as possible. The good news is – nobody knows what the limits to development are, if indeed there are any.
 
"There's more to life than work, and there's more to be good at than your job"
Being good at something is one of the deepest sources of fulfillment. Of course getting there is hard, that's what life is like. That's why any knowledge that makes us better at what we do doesn't just give us the opportunity to be better at work and get richer, it also makes us happier.

Great performance is in our hands.
If we believe that people without a particular talent at something will never be good enough, we naturally direct them away from that very activity, ultimately preventing them from deliberate practice, which is in fact key to great performance. High achievers such as Mozart and Tiger Woods weren't born geniuses - they practiced from a very early age. Mozart received daily training from a teacher who lived with him – his own dad. Tiger Woods's dad, Earl, gave up on his own sports career and dedicated his life to turning his son into the best golf player in the world. Did Mozart and Tiger possess a divine spark? Perhaps, but it would have never led to greatness, had it not been for the early deliberate practice they received.
 
"Organisations are finding that the advantages of building a big reputation for developing people are even greater than they may have thought."
By continually attracting the best graduate talent, then developing it further, companies are creating increasingly higher-performance cultures and the cycle is never ending. In order to achieve this, however, an organisation needs to be confident that each employee is not just doing a job within the company, but that they are also being stretched and developed constantly. Pushing employees beyond their current capabilities, stretching them, challenging them and giving them carefully chosen assignments are all key elements in people development.
 
Want to apply the principles of great performance in your organisation? Colvin would suggest you follow these rules:
  • Find ways to develop leaders within their jobs.
  • Encourage your leaders to be active in their communities.
  • Understand the critical roles of teachers and feedback: nothing stands in the way of good, regular feedback, except corporate culture.
  • Identify your high performers early: John Rice, General Electric's vice chairman said that "Leadership capability can be evaluated on day one of employment."
  • Developing people works best through inspiration, not authority.
  • Invest time, money and energy in developing people – it's worth every bit.
  • Leadership development needs to be part of the culture.
  • Develop teams, not just individuals.

Have you read a book that's made you rethink everything you thought you knew about performance, work and talent? Share your findings in the comment box below.