March 17, 2009
Why Talent is Overrated Part II by By Geoff Colvin
We continure with this great article on "Why Talent is Overrated….
Jack Welch, named by Fortune as the 20th century's manager of the century, showed no particular inclination toward business, even into his mid-20s. With a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, approaching the real world at age 25, he still wasn't sure of his direction and interviewed for faculty jobs at Syracuse and West Virginia universities. He finally decided to accept an offer to work in a chemical development operation at General Electric.
Bill Gates, the world's richest human, is a more promising candidate for those who want to explain success through talent. He became fascinated by computers as a kid and says he wrote his first piece of software at age 13; it was a program that played ticktacktoe. The problem is that nothing in his story suggests extraordinary abilities.
What do you think? Do you need talent to be successful?
As he is the first to note, legions of kids were interested in the possibilities of computers in those days. What suggested that Gates would become the king of them all? The answer is, nothing in particular.
You might suppose that in the age of genomic research, there should no longer be any question about precisely what's innate and what isn't. Since talent is by definition innate, there should be a gene (or genes) for it. The difficulty is that scientists haven't yet figured out what each of our 20,000-plus genes does.
All we can say for the moment is that no specific genes identifying particular talents have been found. It's possible that they will be; scientists could yet find the piano-playing gene or investing gene or accounting gene. But they haven't so far, and doing so could be a long shot. The most one could say is that if genes exert any influence, it would seem to be much less than the whole explanation for achieving the highest levels of performance.
So if specific, inborn talent doesn't explain high achievement, what does? Researchers have converged on an answer. It's something they call "deliberate practice," but watch out - it isn't what most of us think of as practice, nor does it boil down to a simplistic practice-makes-perfect explanation.
It isn't just hard work, either. Deliberate practice is a specific and unique kind of activity, neither work nor play. It's characterized by several elements that together form a powerful whole. The greatest performers have consistently combined these elements, sometimes just by luck.
But now that researchers have decoded the pattern, the path to top performance is becoming much more accessible. The elements of deliberate practice are each worth examining:
Check back next week for the continuation of this interestng article…