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Talent is overrated, so start smart

Written by Astrid Roest on 3 July 2017 for Graduates

Ever wonder why some people seem destined for greatness?

Chess grandmasters, for example; professional athletes; concert pianists; rock stars.

Never mind these, even more earthly mortals such as successful software developers, or stockbrokers: how can they do the things they do and make it look so easy?

Is it talent? Or hard work?

Or a bit of both?

Or, more importantly: what can make you great? How can you be the best you possible?

Do you need to be born with the seed of success already in you? If you feel like you’ll never have what it takes to be a good data analyst/blogger/zoo keeper and that it’s just not in you, well, this blog post is for you.

What if, instead, you tried to put pedal to the metal and work your way to the top, shoving yourself through that glass ceiling with the power of brute force? Is that enough to take you all the way?

Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin, explores these questions in depth – scrutinizing the careers of top performers to get to the bottom of what it is that makes them the best at what they do.

Nobody is born great

Nobody is born being a chess grandmaster, or a star athlete. Yes, they may have talents in those directions, but talent doesn’t equal performance. The good news is that nobody – not even Mozart! – is born already with musical ability inborn in them.

Such consistently amazing performance doesn’t come from experience, either. If that were the case then people spending most of their waking hours at work, as most of us do, would be experts in their field.

This isn’t usually the case.

In fact, studies have shown that experienced doctors score lower on tests of medical knowledge than their less experienced colleagues.

This means that the further away you are from your area of study or expertise, the longer you’ve spent out in the field, the more you need to come back into the fold and brush up on your skills.

What about intelligence?

But wait.

Surely intelligence counts towards something?

Our society values one test above all others when it comes to intelligence: the IQ test. It is the holy grail of intelligence benchmarking.

But are your results really all that important?

Maybe your score on the IQ test contributes at least something towards your success in life?

Short answer: no, not necessarily.

Longer answer: studies have proven that IQ scores don’t account for great performance or general success as well as we might think.

You can have brains to burn and still not have the drive to succeed.

Check out our 5 reasons why it’s hard to find talent to learn more about the areas that need to be improved within the workforce as a whole. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these areas in your own skill set!

Why practice makes perfect

Deliberate practice can help you raise your success rates to levels you never before thought possible. But what do we mean by ‘deliberate practice’?

Deliberate practice means identifying the specific elements of your performance that need to be improved, and then honing in on those areas and practicing, improving, polishing them ad nauseum until you get them right.

Think of concert pianists. How many times do you think they’ve played every passage of that work before they perform it in public with an orchestra, and an audience watching their every move? Hundreds of times, thousands maybe. They may be doing it unconsciously, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re practicing deliberately and with great attention.

Deliberate practice has its own rewards, of course. It physically rewires your brain and your body to perceive and remember more, whether mentally or through muscle memory.

This is how top tennis players know where to rush to on the court even without looking at their opponent.

Getting your career in focus

Whether you’re a recent graduate or just moving on to your next job, you need to keep a steady focus on a number of things in order to succeed.

If it’s hard to get your thoughts in order, these steps will definitely start you on the right path:

1.   Know your goals. If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how will you be able to measure your progress?

2.   Identify problem areas and deliberately practice them, honing them, getting them into shape


The main takeaway from Talent is Overrated is that talent has next to nothing to do with performance. Great news!

True world-class performance is something that is achieved over years of hard work and perseverance. It is a phenomenon built over a long period of time using deliberate practice.

What now?

You might be thinking, well, that’s great to know, but what does it have to do with me?

You need to take this knowledge and use it your advantage when building your career.

Practice deliberately for the best results. It’s not about the amount of hours you put in, but rather about how you work.

Work smarter, not harder, and see your results exponentially improve.

About Talent is Overrated

Talent is Overrated overthrows our intuitive ideas that skill and genius are innate in a person. It challenges this idea with many references to various scientific studies, all of which have been peer-reviewed and found sound.

Talent is Overrated throws a lifebelt to the people floundering in the idea that just because they’re good at something they can rest on their laurels.

Talent is Overrated sounds a clarion call to the forces of hard work and commitment, and underlines the message we’ve been repeating all along: work smarter, not harder.

The book is available to buy online here or from all good bookshops.

Written by Astrid Roest Talent Development Manager