Book review: Talent is Overrated

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought I had reviewed Talent is Overrated years ago, when I first read it, but apparently not.

I took this as an opportunity to re-read it, so here is my review, about a decade or so late.

The book, originally based on a Fortune magazine article, presents a simple premise: That people who seem gifted with natural talent aren’t gifted at all–they just practice more and at a level most people would find untenable, allowing them to excel. The first half of the book explains how deliberate practice can make a profound difference in how adept someone is at a given skill, whether it’s playing a musical instrument, throwing a football, or something else. Author Geoff Colvin does note that physical limits can impose obvious constraints on some tasks, but that generally, if someone practices extensively (hours a day), does so in a deliberate manner (always pushing themselves to learn more, rather than getting super proficient at a certain level), they can rise to be at the top of their chosen field or endeavour.

The second half of the book then goes into the why of deliberate practice, and here it’s less about case studies and more speculation on what compels people to go well beyond what most would do in terms of time and energy investment in their chosen hobby or line of work. Colvin also holds out hope for those wanting to try out deliberate practice by saying it can yield benefits even in those older, although it’s obviously better to start younger.

Overall, I like the premise of the book. It’s logical and there’s plenty of evidence to show that smart, hard work is the not-really-secret recipe to success. It’s just such hard work that only a few will ever fully commit to it, and it’s still not entirely clear why some do. Colvin’s prose is not particularly vivid or arresting, but it gets the job done. The book, written in 2008 (I had a “2018 anniversary edition”, though I could not notice any changes from the original text I read) could probably do with an update, as smartphones and other technology were nascent when it was written, and it would be interesting to see how current tech can help or hinder deliberate practice. Still, this is a worthy and very accessible read.

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