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Talent is Overrated

What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

By Geoff Colvin
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Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

Talent is Overrated explores the top performers in a number of fields to get at the bottom of just what makes them great. Contrary to what most of us intuitively think about skill, this book offers enticing evidence that top performance in any field are not determined by their inborn talent, but by deliberate efforts over many years.

Key idea 1 of 9

Contrary to popular belief, neither inborn abilities nor experience alone determine extraordinary achievement.

If you’re like most people, you spend most of your waking hours at work. And, like many others, you probably perform your work just fine without being world-class at it. For example, if you’re an accountant, you probably don’t rank among the very best at your job even if you’ve been crunching numbers eight hours a day for the past twenty years.

So if we devote most of our waking hours to our jobs, why aren’t most of us amazing at what we do?

Surprisingly, because extraordinary achievement isn’t determined by experience!

Extensive research shows that many people don’t improve at their work even after many years of experience; in fact, some actually get worse as they gain experience.

Studies have shown that experienced doctors score lower on tests of medical knowledge than their less experienced peers. This trend also seems to hold true across many other professions: the same goes for auditors detecting fraud and stockbrokers recommending stocks. Those with a wealth of experience often perform no better than their less experienced peers – and some perform even worse.

And great achievement doesn’t derive from inborn talent, i.e., the natural ability to succeed more easily, either.

This was shown in a study that sought out talented individuals, conducted in England in the 1990s. Researchers gathered vast amounts of data on 257 young people, all of whom had studied music. Surprisingly, they found that those who exhibited the greatest performance didn’t seem to have any more inborn talent than the other students!

The top performers exhibited no signs of extraordinary achievement before they started their intensive music training, which would have otherwise indicated a natural talent. Nor did top performers benefit from greater gains with the same amount of practice, indicating that talent didn’t manifest itself in the form of rapid improvements, either.

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