I just finished reading Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin. Fascinating book. Giftedness is a topic that I’ve thought about a lot. Are we selling ourselves short by assuming that we’ll never be as good a keyboardist, vocalist, guitarist, drummer, or whatever, as the people we esteem?
Colvin begins the book by examining the lives of several famous “greats,” including Tiger Woods, Mozart, Jack Welch, and Jerry Rice. He says that most people think their greatness arose either from a) hard work; or b) talent. Colvin says neither, and uses scientific and anecdotal evidence to support his claim. Instead, he points us to “deliberate practice.” Not simply working hard, but working the right way. Deliberate practice, often the fruit of effective mentoring, has five elements:
- It is activity designed specifically to improve performance
- it can be repeated a lot
- feedback on results is continuously available
- it’s highly demanding mentally
- It isn’t much fun
In chapter six he explains that deliberate practice works by helping us perceive more, know more, and remember more. In the remaining chapters he covers application, the myth of creativity, the benefits of starting early, and the source of passion. He ends the book this way:
What you believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation of all you will ever achieve…Above all, what the evidence shouts most loudly is striking, liberating news: that great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and to everyone.
I wasn’t fully persuaded. God really does give people different gifts (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Pet. 4:10). And no amount of deliberate or any kind of practice can thwart or change God’s plan to raise up or bring down an individual.
That being said, God holds us accountable for what we do with the gifts he’s given us (Mt. 25:14-29). And that’s where this book is helpful. There’s a lot worth reading here, because most of us could be better than we are.
As I read the chapter on deliberate practice I thought back to my college days when I practiced about 4 hours a day for four years. I could identify with all the earmarks of deliberate practice. A young guy I know intentionally practices more than six hours a day. I can guarantee you, he’s going to be better than most guitarists his age. The question for each of us is this: How much more could God use me as an instrumentalist/vocalist/songwriter if I spent more time purposefully developing my skills and gifts?
Here are a few quotes that stood out:
Frequently when we see great performers doing what they do, it strikes us that they’ve practiced for so long, and done it so many times, they can just do it automatically. But in fact, what they have achieved is the ability to avoid doing it automatically. (p 82)
Average performers believe their errors were caused by factors outside their control: My opponent got lucky; the task was too hard; I just don’t have any natural ability for this. Top performers, by contrast, believe they are responsible for their errors. (p 119)
The most eminent creators are consistently those who have immersed themselves utterly in their chosen field, have devoted their lives to it, amassed tremendous knowledge of it, and continually pushed themselves to the front of it.