happiness by building a remarkable life.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Review - Talent is Overrated

by Geoff Colvin, Published by the Penguin Group, 228 pages

Well, it was hard to read this book. It took nearly three days to go through 200 pages, even after I almost skipped a chapter. And rightly so, because the concept on which the book is based is deliberate practice...not just practice. You don't just slog through it, and get to enjoy phenomenal success...

How can truly excellent people, like Stephen Hawkins and Michael Jordan, do what everybody else can't do ? There are only a few people who are truly amazing, excellent and awesome at what they do. All of us, we work hard. We put in long hours in what we do - engineering, teaching, music, sports whatever. Even then, It is a matter of shame if we calculate the total number of hours we have put in the work we do, and the level what we have achieved. Of course, we have explanation for the same - we are not talented, we don't work as hard as them and the most easy explanation - we ain't lucky enough or we are not god gifted.

There are eleven chapters in this book. The author explains the mystery of talent, and why everyone uses it as a convenient excuse to slog through life in the first chapter. Then comes the proof, why talent is overrated. A close examination of the lives of great performers take out the inconvenient truth.. that talent is overrated. May be god-gifted talent for a specific task like music, sports or academics does not exist, but what if general intelligence (smartness ??) or IQ has an effect.

Is that really so ? Well, the answer is NO. And this book explains.... why ?

It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. Its the things we know that just ain't so - Josh Billings

So, what is it ? The author examines all of talent, overall smartness or aptitude as a turning point for truly exceptional performers. But the actual result says something different. These things don't matter at all. With the example of Tiger Woods, and Benjamin Franklin it is obvious that rather than god-gifted talent or smartness, they had something different; or to say properly, they did something different.

Then what is a better idea that can explain this puzzle ? Practice. And its not the practice what we do. Its the practice with deliberate effort. And it takes a long time, as explained in the 10 year rule or 10000 hours rule.

Deliberate practice must accomplish something, its not just practicing in our comfort zone. If it doesn't require any special effort, its not deliberate practice. And then the author explains what is deliberate practice. And how does it work ? Though it may not be a good idea for me to explain it, because I am not Geoff Colvin. The reader needs to read it themselves, and I don't want to take out the element of suspense - the element that makes you a great performer, someone line Tiger Woods or Sachin Tendulkar.

So, how can we apply those abstract principles in our lives; we are all different - as persons, as professionals and as performers.

There are explanations to how we apply those principles to our lives, to to our organizations. And there is another interesting chapter on motivation too... Well, as expected, there are unanswered questions. But, a book is always better if it leaves foods for thought.. and this one does that exactly.

We got to take charge of our life, deliberately.

A poster I made for deliberate practice in http://diy.despair.com/ . The image is taken from the cover of the same book.

The book can be bought here.


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I am a student [Master of Design - Product Design and Engineering] at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. I completed BTech (Mechanical Engineering) from NIT Silchar. My native place is Sipajhar, a small place with rich cultural heritage, in Assam. I am interested in designing products and systems for a better life. I like to collect quotes, read books,blog and surf net, dance and sing Bihu songs and write poems and articles. I don't like to talk while I am eating. But above all, I want to be happy all the time. Contact me at m2n037[at]gmail[dot]com
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