Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin (Book Summary & Review)

LifeMindsetPersonal DevelopmentSuccess

What’s in it? Quick Summary

Geoff Colvin‘s book Talent Is Overrated argues that individual achievement is largely a product of practice and dedication rather than innate talent, citing evidence from a variety of fields. He suggests that experience does not always guarantee performance, and that great innovations are the result of a lengthy process of mastery. And encourages readers to practice deliberately to reach a high level of proficiency.

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Bullet Summary: Actionable Takeaways

  • Just because someone has been practicing incorrectly for years does not guarantee they will reach a high level of proficiency.
  • Talent is overrated; it is dedication, hard work, and deliberate practice that makes great people different.
  • Deliberate practice changes both your body and brain and can give you an edge over others, but it is important to start early.
  • Be absolutely clear about what you want to achieve and why before you start your deliberate practice.
  • Constant self-growth is the biggest source of motivation.

About the author

Geoff Colvin is an American journalist, author, and senior editor-at-large at Fortune magazine.

He is best known for his book Talent Is Overrated, first published in 2008.

In the book, Colvin argues that individual achievement is largely a product of practice and dedication rather than innate talent.

He cites evidence from a variety of fields, including business, sports, and the military, to demonstrate his point.

Colvin received positive reviews for his work, with critics praising the book’s comprehensive and accessible approach to a complex topic.

Colvin has also written several other books, including Humans Are Underrated and The Upside of the Downturn.

He has also served as a corporate director for several multinational companies.

Talent Is Overrated Summary

Are geniuses born or made?

We all want to become exceptional at our skills and achieve more, right?

But what does it really take?

Is it EXPERIENCE?

Is it LUCK?

Or is it something else?

Is there some secret recipe to becoming world-class at any skill that only few successful people know?

In this book summary, I’ll share the best insights from the book Talent Is Overrated, written by Geoff Colvin, that will help you find answers to these mind-bending questions.

Alrighty, so without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Lesson #1: Don’t chase experience over expertise.

The general belief is that if you have lots of experience doing something, you’ll definitely achieve mastery over it.

Allow me to explain with an example.

Imagine: Person A has 10 years of experience playing tennis, while Person B has twice as much, 20 years of experience.

Who will win if they both play a match?

It is natural to assume that Person B is superior to Person A.

It’s hard to fathom, but Person A could be better than Person B.

We tend to correlate experience with expertise.

People with more experience typically earn higher salaries. It is assumed that experienced professionals are better equipped to handle the job than those who are new to the field.

However, the author discovered, after studying various studies, that people’s performance actually deteriorates as they spend more time doing the same task.

In other words:

Experience doesn’t always guarantee job performance, and can even have a negative correlation.

Just because someone has been practicing incorrectly for years does not guarantee they will reach a high level of proficiency.

Experienced workers can become worse at their job due to lack of learning as the field advances.

It’s weird because experienced people are paid more and yet research done on managers shows that, on average, they don’t produce very high-quality outcomes compared to less experienced managers.

Why is this so?

This happens because many people stop evolving their skills once they reach a certain stage.

They become comfortable doing the same things and don’t want to change.

Change makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it?

Now back to the same question: What makes great people different?

Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that experience doesn’t help at all.

It can help you improve, as with time you learn about your mistakes.

But the author of this book isn’t talking about just getting better.

The goal is to figure out what separates legends from normal people.

You can definitely elevate your shooting skills if you practice every single day for years, but will you reach the level of legends like Pele, Ronaldo, Messi, etc.?

Or you can have more experience playing music, but will you reach the level of Michael Jackson or Taylor Swift?

We’ve just learned that even with lots of experience, there is no guarantee of extraordinary results. So, what is the key to success?

Were the legends simply born more talented?

Was it all pre-determined by fate?

If it was, then do we have any free will?

Should we even bother?

Let’s find out in the next lesson.

Key takeaway: Experience and expertise have no direct correlation.

Lesson #2: Great innovations don’t happen overnight. Behind them lies a lengthy process, which many of us overlook.

Humans have sought to explain the events occurring around the world by crafting stories.

To make sense of the inexplicable, they have created narratives that provide context and meaning. Over time, these tales have evolved, becoming more complex and detailed.

Whenever innovations occur, we naturally try to find out how they happened and what made them happen so that we can find out the secret sauce and make innovations over and over again.

But most people make the mistake here.

Great writers and poets like William Shakespeare are often thought to have been geniuses, with ideas magically coming to them. However, this overlooks the hard work and dedication that went into crafting their works.

Many studies have demonstrated that those who achieved great success had a profound understanding of their field.

The thing is: When we say that creative ideas happen to only a few gifted people, we forget that they spent years mastering their skills.

If you can devote time to a field and do deliberate practice, you can also come up with great ideas too in that field.

The stories we hear about creative breakthroughs don’t tell the whole story, they oversimplify how much time and effort those geniuses put in their field.

We all keep waiting for that one business idea that will make us a billionaire one day.

But we forget that for that to happen, we will have to start achieving mastery first.

In simple words: You are less likely to come up with a solution to a Calculus problem, if you don’t even know basic math.

All great poets, painters, writers, etc. focus on mastery first, and then ideas come to them as a by-product.

They don’t chase those ideas like normal people do. Mastery creates the possibility of those creative breakthroughs.

This is also why it’s very difficult for a normal person to write a noteworthy song or write a masterpiece novel.

Sure, exceptions are always there, but we are discussing the groundbreaking innovations that create impact in the world.

Key takeaway: Creative breakthroughs are easier if you have mastery in your field.

Lesson #3: Don’t just practice. Be deliberate.

If you approach any world-class performer and ask them what’s their secret to success, what do you think they’ll say?

They will most likely say that they became exceptionally good because they practiced a lot.

But most of us know already know this, don’t we?

We all have heard phrases like “Practice makes a man perfect.”

Or “be consistent.” or “Believe you can do it.

But still, why do many people don’t become good at their crafts despite doing a lot of practice.

Where is the problem exactly?

Is it because they don’t have talent?

Most likely, chances are, they are just practicing — they are not doing deliberate practice.

You may ask, “what is deliberate practice?” and “How is this any different?”

The difference between normal practice and deliberate practice is that deliberate practice is focused on specific elements that are limiting your growth.

In a study done on a violinist, researchers found that the best violinists were best not because they had anything special, but because they did more deliberate practice compared to their peers.

You can do deliberate practice too by focusing on key elements of your practice.

We all have seen how professional footballers shoot the ball from a long range and perfectly hit the goal with precision.

It looks superhuman, doesn’t it?

We all realize that they must have practiced a lot.

So if we know it’s all about practice, then why do many footballers don’t reach that world-class level despite playing a lot of football?

Again, it’s not just about practice, it’s about finding the flaws in your technique and noticing the details throughout your practice session. And then deliberately practicing in such a way that those specific areas improve over time, resulting in drastic improvement.

But do you know why deliberate practice works like magic?

Let’s discuss.

Lesson #4: Deliberate practice changes you fundamentally.

When you practice a lot, you learn skills that an average human doesn’t have.

For example, if you see professional footballers, they can judge the positions of the other players on the field before they even receive the ball during the game.

This allows them to make better decisions.

But a normal person won’t be able to do that without deliberate practice.

So, what happened exactly?

Something fundamentally changed.

Their minds can process more information faster.

They can absorb more, remember more, and judge better compared to normal human beings.

Deliberate practice changes both your body and brain.

You must have seen how people’s bodies change after going to the gym for a few months.

The same thing happens with the brain.

If you practice guitar every day for a few years, your fingers will develop muscle memory.

And you’ll be able to play notes without even thinking about them.

That’s because appropriate parts of your brain will change after years of intensive training.

This means that something fundamental has to change to become a world-class athlete or a musician.

Talent plays a little role and is overrated.

Lesson #5: Start your deliberate practice early to get the most benefit.

Lionel Messi started playing football at the age of 4.

And there are many examples that clearly show that if you start your deliberate practice early, you get numerous advantages.

One advantage is when you’re young, you have more energy and spare time.

As you grow up, your responsibilities also grow.

Basically, young age is the time when you can learn anything you want provided you got the resources.

Moreover, at a young age, your brain can absorb and process information more easily than in adulthood.

The biggest advantage in starting deliberate practice at a young age is that you get a lot of time.

Starting early gives you the opportunity to experiment and find out what works best for you, before you take on more responsibilities and have less spare time.

There are many industries where it’s tough to come up with new ideas unless you have in-depth knowledge.

For example, it’s difficult to be the next Socrates or Descartes.

Unless you have studied various branches of philosophy, it can be difficult to make groundbreaking discoveries. Breaking new ground requires an in-depth understanding of the subject, which can only be obtained through study.

If you start studying it early, you’ll definitely have an advantage over a person who has started studying it in their late thirties.

Furthermore, many skills that require physical abilities like dancing or martial arts become hard to master after you cross a certain age.

It depends on how fit your body is at that age, though.

In short: If you want to master something badly, there is no better way than starting your deliberate practice early.

But keep in mind, it’s going to require so much of your time, energy, and money.

Let’s discuss what you need to keep in mind to ensure you don’t waste your resources.

Lesson #6: Be absolutely clear about what you want to achieve.

So far, we discussed that talent isn’t enough to become exceptional — that you need to do deliberate practice — that it can change you fundamentally — and you must start as early as you can.

But what if you choose the wrong thing?

What if things don’t go your way, and you lose motivation during your pursuit of greatness?

Most people ignore this part. (And that’s also why you should always watch the entire video without skipping details)

They randomly pick a goal based on what seems promising without putting much thought.

The journey to greatness is never linear. It’s filled with ups and downs.

There is always some opportunity cost.

Remember, we don’t have a time machine yet.

We can’t travel back in time and tell our old version to not make a particular mistake.

Whatever time you spend doing intensive practice for years becomes a part of your life.

Having clarity is a must.

Remember, focusing too much on the wrong thing has no meaning.

If you don’t know what you want to become and why, you may find yourself regretting in the future.

But if you know why you’re doing what you’re doing and are committed to it, then the process itself will become rewardable, thus leaving no room for any regret.

Even determination and commitment are a result of having clarity in your goals.

If you have no clarity, you’ll find yourself procrastinating sporadically.

You might even lose motivation to continue your practice.

Want to learn the biggest source of motivation?

Great! Let’s discuss.

Lesson #7: Constant self-growth is the biggest motivation Ever.

Every so often, we need motivation to continue.

But this doesn’t mean that you always require motivation to pursue your dreams.

Studies indicate that many world-class achievers didn’t have much motivation in the beginning.

For example, lessons and practices were forced on them.

But later, when they started getting better at their thing, when they got the initial push.

That initial push helped them improve and overcome challenges.

The point is: Motivation, although helpful, isn’t always necessary.

When you start getting initial wins, you automatically feel motivated to improve further.

We all have a desire to improve, and when we work in that direction, we feel more satisfaction.

The sense of achievement further multiplies as you continue to grow.

One worth noting is that if the motivation doesn’t become your own, it won’t have that much impact.

These days, people rely too much on external motivation, which wears off quickly.

What you really need is an inner drive to grow yourself.

Although that drive can be initiated by external motivation, it will never last for a long time if you don’t have a strong reason for becoming an achiever.

Talent Is Overrated Review

Pros

  1. The book is suitable for anyone who wishes to become an extraordinary or world-class achiever in their field.
  2. This book is highly motivating, as it dispels the myth that some people are just naturally gifted, and instead emphasizes the importance of effort and perseverance.
  3. The author examines the cases of renowned talents such as Mozart and Tiger Woods. And explores how these individuals achieved success and the factors that contributed to their success.

Cons

  1. The book is similar to the author’s other book, “Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.”
  2. The book focus too much on deliberate practice. Other than this, you’ll struggle to find tips to become world-class.
  3. If you don’t like reading self-help, you might not enjoy reading the second-half of this book.
  4. You might know plenty of things already.
  5. It could be more concise.

You can buy the book in your preferable format below.

Get the Audiobook: Listen free with Audible Trial

Get the Paperback version: View price on Amazon

Get the Hardcover version: View price on Amazon

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Shami Manohar


The Brain Behind Wizbuskout.com

I am Shami Manohar, the founder of WizBuskOut. My obsession with non-fiction books has fueled me with the energy to create this website. I read at least one book every week on topics such as business, critical thinking, mindset, psychology, and more.

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