November 1, 2008

Talent is overrated: new book on deliberate practice

About half a year ago, I quoted Geoffrey Colvin, who wrote a Fortune article with the title What it takes to be great. In that article he said: "Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill."

In the article Colvin translates the concept of deliberate practice to the situation of business. Briefly, the term deliberate practice refers to the work by Anders Ericsson and his colleagues on how to achieve greatness in a field. These researchers have found that the best performers in any field are those who devote the most hours to deliberate practice.

Colvin has now written a book called Talent is overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. In it, he elaborates on the content of the article. Being a fan of the work by Carol Dweck on the growth mindset (to which this work is obviously related) I am of course curious about this book. Maybe more about it later.


  1. Hi Coert,
    Important ideas. But what if the ability to deliberately practice is a talent, or a meta-talent? Or, could you master deliberate practice by deliberate practice?


  2. Hi Michael, Thanks for your comment. It triggers two thoughts in me.

    One is about a theory of intelligence by David Perkins(1995) who distinguishes as important dimensions of intelligence: 1) Neural intelligence. This intelligence reflects the general information processing capacity of the person, an aspect of intelligence that may touch on the G-factor, 2) Experiential intelligence. Intelligence that is based on experiences and that are manifested both explicitly and implicitly. You could call this a domain-specific or situational intelligence, 3) Reflective intelligence. This refers to tactics and techniques that you can apply to make use of your neural and experiential intelligence as effectively and efficiently as possible. You might call this meta-intelligence or strategic intelligence.

    The elegance of this model is (to me) that it integrates a more traditional view on intelligence with modern views of developability. So, sure there will be SOME role for talent!

    The second is the work by Peter Heslin and others. When Carol Dweck had explained to me about the advantages of a growth mindset, I ask her: "but what if you do'n't have a growht mindset? CAN you develop a growth mindset?" She pointed me to the work by Peter Heslin and colleagues who have shown how in a brief workshop a growth mindset was tought to groups of managers.

    Thinking about this I tend to be optimistic about the ability to develop a deliberate practice habit, too. I tend to apply the growth mindset to this aspect too.

    Having said this, I'd like to point out that we don't all have to be worldchamps in what we do.. A certain amount of deliberate practice will often be just fine.

    I hope there is something interesting in here

  3. Some of these ideas by Ericsson, Colvin, and others reminds me of Woody Allen's quote: "Eighty percent of success is showing up." I might add that we are not sure exactly what goes into the other twenty percent, but much of it likely involves hard work.

  4. @Michael Hjerth To gain the ability to do deliberate practice it helps to develop a growth mindset. I've found that it is possible to develop this mindset and I've come up with my own techniques for doing so based on research on resistance and persuasion. You can do it but you must work at it.


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