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Old 03-24-2013
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Default The most important book I have read this year

I just finished reading
Talent is overrated by Geoff Colvin Talent is overrated by Geoff Colvin
.



It's a fairly slim book so I dug through it within a day, I couldn't put it down!

The book is simply about what makes great people great. It is at the same time an uplifting and a crushing read, uplifting because it demolishes completely the idea that one can't accomplish whatever one wants and it shows why great people are forged through effort and will, not born with an innate gift. Crushing because it really highlights how brutally hard the path to greatness truly is. Hard work simply isn't enough, the world is full of hard workers that amounted to nothing, what is needed is very specific and focused hard work that relentlessly targets weaknesses.

To take an example from music, Colvin describes perfectly the difference between someone just playing around with and instrument for 5 hours playing tunes they know well and someone deliberately practicing for the same time, always challenging themselves with pieces just slightly out of reach for their skill level, and why the second person will excel while the first stagnates. Similar examples abound in writing, sports, business or any activity. Above all it puts emphasis on one simple fact, the best people are the ones that put in the most hours of deliberate practice and the number of hours necessary is staggering. No one can (or at least no example has ever been found ) become great without putting in the hours, child prodigies, and other examples of "gifted" or "talented" people, just started practicing earlier. For some people this reduced the mystique surrounding great people, but in my view it humanizes them and makes their achievements all the more impressive.

While it might be depressing to think about the hours needed to achieve something if one has already lived through a fair chunk of life (like myself and my new found passion of programming), Colvin emphasis that it is never to late to get better and there is no reason to believe that there are any boundaries to how good we can really get. We just need to focus on what we really deep down want to do, nothing else can motivate us enough to go through the necessary hard work. When we have found our passion we need to hammer it relentlessly, seek out skilled teachers and always keep challenging ourselves with practice that is just right, if it is to hard we give up in frustration and if it is to easy we learn nothing. Always being at the edge of the comfort zone where learning is "just right" is the great secret of success and the best of the best seems to posses an uncanny ability to put themselves in that zone.

Other important lessons one can find in the book is that our workplaces are usually (by accident or ignorance) designed to slow down and blunt our possibilities to achieving greatness in our profession. Great companies like Google has realized the importance of motivating and stimulating their employees and giving them the opportunity to always practice and improve. The normal run of the mill company as a contrast always give their employees tasks they already know, never challenging them or letting them learn because it could be seen as a "waste of time". Master a task in a year and spend 40 years doing it. The danger with this approach is that the employee actually gets worse with time if she is not allowed to challenge herself regularly. If we are unlucky enough to be stuck in a company like that development is unfortunately all in our own hands.

The book is well worth picking up, especially if one is a parent I believe because it contains many examples of how parents inspired and taught their kids to become truly great. It can certainly also inspire some managers on how to shape winning teams instead of just another bunch of 8-4 zombies counting their hours.

Last edited by Johan; 03-24-2013 at 06:02 AM.
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Old 03-24-2013
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I also like how Colvin put emphasis on the fact that "practice" is not only something you do in music and the arts. Practice is what you need to do regardless of your field of endeavor. Business, sales, science, engineering, truck driving, cooking, it doesn't really matter what it is, you still need to practice it in a deliberate way to become great.
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Old 03-24-2013
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why great people are forged through effort and will, not born with an innate gift. Crushing because it really highlights how brutally hard the path to greatness truly is. Hard work simply isn't enough, the world is full of hard workers that amounted to nothing, what is needed is very specific and focused hard work that relentlessly targets weaknesses.
I was thinking about this the other day. I was considering, "what's the difference between me and every billionaire?!" (or anyone highly successful and makes a lot of money, but not specifically related to their job).

So, not only "how did they get there", but "what separated them from the pack to allow them to persevere?".....I decided that that's just it, they persevered! They weren't satisfied with ordinary success and being one of the regular people. They were aptly motivated to be great.

Interesting that you posted this.

Great post! Thanks for sharing!!
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Old 03-24-2013
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if you read the book let me know what you think of it!
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will do!
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It is kind of depressing though after reading the book to think of what could have been.

When I was a kid I was obsessed by maths and science. In 4th or 5th grade (can't remember which) in the evenings I worked through the next four years of maths and then a bit extra. Everyone around me of course got the impression that I was some kind of math and science wiz and because I was a kid and heard it so many times I started believing that myself. As a result I spent the next couple of years without lifting a finger thinking I could cruise and manage just relying on some kind of "gift". Of course by the time university rolled around my edge had been completely lost and I was in for a real rude awakening.

I really wonder what level I would have reached if I had stuck with that kind of deliberate practice all through my teen years or if I would have had a teacher that could have pushed me onward.

The world must be full of people that never fulfilled their potential because there was no one around to guide them during those crucial childhood years, what an utter failure regular schooling really is. The loss to society and to peoples sense of self worth must be staggering.
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My comment is obviously independent of the book, since I only know what you've mentioned, but.....

To me it sounds like this is about being great at one thing. What I wonder is, have all 'my experiences' (or anyone's for that matter), placed me on a path for something great and that I would never be able to make it to that point had I ever practiced that 'one thing' religiously or had I not taken the path I have taken.....?!?.....

For me, the difference (or answer) is in my ability to work through difficulties and improve as a person (internally and professionally). I think the majority of people reach a given point and are satisified (sometimes lazy) with where they reside. I think many people don't truly want more. At some point or another, people have headed down a path thinking, "this is what I want", but soon they find out what it actually entails and they choose a more convenient route to be content or make a living. I really believe that most people can't comprehend what it takes to be great. I think the glimpse's they do see, 'can' (but not always) make them appreciate how difficult things can be to reach the pinnacle of success in a given area.
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@Johan... great recommendation, I'm going to pick it up, sounds like something I want to read.
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I definitely have to see about getting a copy of that that sent my way. Thanks Jo
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