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The Talent Myth: Why Talent is Overrated And What’s Really Important

I just finished reading Talent Is Overrated. It’s an eye-opening book that made me reconsider what I’ve thought about talent, success, and achievement.

I used to believe the common myth that talent has a lot to do with success and achievement. However, the book gives a lot of evidence including in-depth research studies and real world examples that talent may not have much to do with exceptional achievement at all.

Geoff Colvin, the author of the book, argues that deliberate practice is the key.  And not just a couple months of deliberate practice but years.  In fact, it usually takes at least 10 years of deliberate practice before an individual proves his greatness.  He goes over the lives of exceptional performers like The Beatles, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jerry Rice and shows that each of them had habits of deliberate practice for many, many years before making it big.

Even the child prodigies like Tiger Woods and Mozart that we often think of as supremely talented reached their success early in life because they started practicing very early.  Colvin credits Tiger’s and Mozart’s fathers. Tiger’s dad had him practicing golf when he was only two years old while Mozart’s father had Mozart learn about composing when he was only three years old.

So, what does all this have to do with development, design, and other forms of web work?

Well, if talent is not the answer and practice is, then most of us have to rethink things.

If you consider yourself more talented than your competitors, then you”ll be tempted to coast, rely on our talent, and neglect practice. This leaves you vulnerable to competitors that practice very hard and therefore, will out-achieve you in the future.

If you don’t consider yourself very talented, you can have hope of huge success by practicing hard and well.  You don’t have to be limited by your own perceived talent.

And most importantly, we need to figure out what deliberate practice is and how to create the types of practice activities that actually lead to improved performance.  Fortunately, Colvin gives us a clear definition of deliberate practice.

Next week we’ll look at this definition and see how we can apply it to web work.


  1. By Austin posted on May 20, 2009 at 7:43 am
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    Wow. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I have always been an engineer, and probably always will be. Computer code is what my gift is, but just recently I have stumbled across the whole “web design” thing.

    Sure, a lot of code is involved, and that appeals to me. But my true dream is that I want to be able to design as well as code. My brother was always the one more gifted when it came to the arts, but reading this article gives me hope. I just have to practice my metaphorical arse off. Thank you for posting this and I look forward to next week’s post!

  2. By Andrew posted on May 20, 2009 at 1:57 pm
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    Completely agree, someone like Jimi Hendrix was amazingly talented because he practiced so much. Think it comes down to motivation more than talent, Tiger Woods obviously had the motivation to practise that much everyday, Alot of people would love to be as good as Tiger Woods but never had that motivation to practice enough to get anywhere near his level.

  3. By Adam Bezulski posted on May 20, 2009 at 2:45 pm
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    Talent without practice is useless and it will never evolve. On the other hand – talent comes from practice. What else needs to be said? I think that “Practice makes master” is enough.

  4. By Steve posted on May 22, 2009 at 3:35 am
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    I think it’s more complicated than the binary choice of alot of talent vs alot of practice. It all depends on what the endeavor is too. Although this book came out before Outliers, I wonder if Malcolm Gladwell and the media echo chamber had any influence in pushing this point of view out?

    In general, isn’t it a bit of both? Some people can practice the piano for a trillion hours and will never be as good as top student at a conservatory like Juilliard or Curtis. Someone who has an innate art for painting will never amount to anything if she never picks up a brush.

    To be really good at something, doesn’t it make common sense that you have talent, work hard, have the right mentors and a bit of luck?

    Shouldn’t we work hard, regardless of whatever newfound theory comes out? Outliers was an interesting read, but I’m not going to completely alter the way I do things because a writer puts out a best seller.

  5. By Victoria Blount posted on May 28, 2009 at 7:58 am
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    I think its a balance, talent without practice is useless, but so is practice without talent. If you practice something everyday you will become good, but i do think that a spark of natural talent is required.

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