Talent Is Overrated - 5 Keys to Deliberate Practice
I love the book Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. It really demystifies talent and articulates what separates the great performers from others. The book starts with the question where does great performance come from. The author successfully argues that innate talent is not the reason for exceptional performance providing examples of Mozart and Tiger Woods. The key take away is that every exceptional performer had put in 10000 hours of deliberate practice before being called a genius. Mozart’s first work regarded as a master piece was his Piano Concerto No.9 composed when he was twenty one. By then Mozart had put in more than eighteen years of extreme expert training. This does not take away the genius aspect but only goes to prove that what we think is innate talent is actually the results of years of arduous hard work.
The book goes into depth on what deliberate practice is. It involves selecting a particular activity and going to lengths to practice on your areas of weakness on a daily basis till you master it. This is not fun and that’s why only a few people do it. The book also has a chapter on where the passion comes from because if deliberate practice is so tough then why do the exceptional performers put themselves through it. I found this to be totally illuminating and instructive.
There are also examples from Business like Bill Gates and Jack Welch. The author argues that during the time when Bill Gates was working on his craft he was not the only one with exceptional software expertise. What separated him from the rest was his ability to launch a business and the different abilities required to manage a large enterprise. Also early life especially for many folks in the fields of business may not show evidence of what’s to come.
Across all fields all top performers have worked very hard on their crafts to be the champions they are. An example is Deep Blue which was the computer program which was designed to analyze 100 million positions in a second and play against the then world champion. Despite its advantage Deep Blue lost to the then champion Gary Kasparov. The next year it was designed to analyze 200 million positions in a second and it did beat Kasparov but still lost one game and three were drawn out of a six game series. The author argues that this is because the human possessed something the computer didn’t which was the ability to analyze positions that were performed by past masters of Chess and utilize them to his advantage.
The take away is to first decide what we enjoy doing, then identifying the areas of weakness in our chosen vocation and then deliberately practicing to overcome areas of weakness. This requires enormous commitment and dedication from the individual. That others have done this should give us hope. All exceptional performers do not try to do multiple things at the same time. They focus on one activity incessantly and do it at world class. This is their key to greatness. For example Federer is a recognized genius in tennis though he may not be great at piano. This is a key distinction for many who try to juggle too many things at the same time and sometimes due to peer pressure. Instead all exceptional performers focus on mastering one activity in a particular field of endeavor and keep practicing without losing enthusiasm to the exclusion of everything else.
The key elements of deliberate practice are
It is designed: The key is to design your practice to improve performance by constantly setting ever higher goals and focusing acutely on the one skill that you can improve. I want to give the example of Tiger Woods because of one thing he did better than anyone else. He basically did more self-evaluation about his game even before anyone thought it is required. This is important because no one else is going to do the changes for you to improve yourself. Tiger Woods who had already reached the apex of sporting achievement decided to change his swing to get that extra edge. In other words he designed a practice regimen to better his swing. This is what he said after winning the Masters tournament by a record 12 strokes in 1997 “You can have a wonderful week...even when your swing isn’t sound. But can you still contend in tournaments with that swing when your timing isn’t good? Will it hold up over a long period of time? The answer to these questions, with the swing I had, was no. And I wanted to change that.” This is clearly the mindset of a true champion.
High Repetition: This much is known if we want to succeed in any endeavor then practice is the key. The key to practice is to repeat every activity defined in the first point until we reach mastery.
Get Coaching: There is a reason why even top athletes need coaches because the individuals can’t identify their weakness by themselves. Don’t reject feedback as that is the only way to improve performance.
Identify your weakness: This closely follows the earlier point. You need to clearly identify areas of weakness and then seek help to improve on that activity. This is hard work but absolutely necessary towards the journey of Mastery.
Prepare for a mentally physically and demanding activity: You can’t get to world-class without some pain and that is what deliberate practice is. This is a sobering thought but if you do it you will have the satisfaction of joining the elite in your profession. The fact is only the top few do deliberate practice so if you engage in it, there is a deep feeling of satisfaction.
The keys to mastery are in our grasp but we need to believe in our talent (I still like using that word) in a particular area and strive to our best abilities.