Is Talent Really that Important?

We marvel at those who seem to navigate life with exceptional giftedness. Mozart was composing music at age five, first performing at age eight, and producing hundreds of musical masterpieces before he died at age thirty five.

Tiger Woods defied categorization, winning major tournaments at a breakneck pace at a young age. Stephen King cranks out bestsellers year after year after year. They must have a divinely appointed moxie and mojo that the rest of us just don’t have.  Or do they?

I just finished reading a book by Geoff Colvin entitled, Talent is overrated. He set out to  explore why some people become elite performers and others do not. What he discovered is very surprising: Their exceptional performance has nothing to do with innate talent. In other words, the elite performer you admire has no more talent than you do. So what’s the difference?

According to the research Geoff investigated, elite performance boils down to two things:

Deliberate Practice: Elite performers practiced more than others. The hours put into a craft or endeavor was deliberately pursued, in spite of the boring, unpleasant, sometime agonizing aspects. They persisted and never stopped. It seemed the Beatles were a phenomenon- musical geniuses that suddenly came into the scene and changed rock and roll overnight. What we tend to forget is they were playing small cramped venues for five grueling years before their first hit. Lennon and McCartney would put relentless hours honing their songwriting skills, toiling away in obscurity before realizing their first hit single. Beatlemania didn’t just happen solely because of their talent. It happened because they deliberately practiced, and practiced, and practiced and practiced.

Garrison Keillor the writer and host of the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” admitted he isn’t a better writer than anyone else. He’s just willing to slog it out writing more than most.

Unwavering belief that they could do it. Elite performers have a tenacious confidence in their ability. They know deep down that they could reach the highest heights, to become the best at what they do. They never let setbacks or doubt stand in the way of their ability to make it happen. They were brutally honest with themselves about their weaknesses and took deliberate steps to overcome them. They imagined a successful future with them as a key player in it. It made the agonizing moments of deliberate practice, the lack of accolades or immediate success take on a greater purpose.

Walt Disney continued to see the immense potential of animation to move emotions and impact the world when everyone else saw them as simple, short diversions. He persisted because he saw clearly the power in telling deep, character driven stories as a feature length film. He could see it and knew he was the one to make it happen. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was the result. It changed animation forever.

Great performance in any field isn’t reserved for an elite few. Great performance is available to all, but it never comes easy. Deliberate, sometimes painful practice must be maintained and a raw self assessment of your ability must continually happen. Practice, Setbacks and Adjustments are ways to realize peak performance in whatever you do.

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