We are taught to believe in innate talent.
I would never have picked up this book. The title just doesn’t entice because I believe that I posses more than the average talent. Why would I want to learn that my talent isn’t valuable. Still, the book came with high commendation from someone I respect, so I read it. Like so many of the books that really change my view of the world this one demolished one of the basic truths that I grew up accepting – that some people are more talented than others. The author – Geoff Colvin– builds a careful case to demonstrate that talent is nothing more than mastery of a subject area from long and artful practice – nothing more and nothing less.
But it starts with a teacher
If there is anything that gives one individual an edge in becoming an expert it is access to a master teacher who can structure their activities and organize their learning. Mozart and Tiger Woods possessed no inborn genius for music or golf. They both had fathers who were expert practitioners and teachers who started them on their journey young.
And turns into hard work
The exhilaration of learning that anyone can become a master quickly passes when Colvin continues to show the incredible time investment necessary for this level of mastery and art. It is all about the amount of time spent in pushing expertise through I nvolved practice. It takes something like twenty years of focused effort to become a standout in any field. It isn’t related to intelligence. It is related to focused work at mastering a field.
How can an old guy benefit from this knowledge?
This is a great book but not a helpful or encouraging one for anybody who is mid-life or beyond. It is always good to learn a truth, particularly when it exposes a commonly held belief that it wrong. It is, however, a great book for a parent. Your child can be a great performer – no talent required. So what if you don’t have twenty years? The encouragement here is that any one, at any age can learn and master. So maybe you don’t have time to be a master. Sometimes being darn good is enough to smash the competition.
What I hate most is that I keep learning that the commonly believed truths that we all use to manage our lives turn out to be lies. As I mature, I find that more and more of them are wrong. In Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin kills another one of those false truths dead. Forget talent, just put in the work.