What has talent got to do with success?

The answer is: NOTHING! One of society’s myths is that top performers are as good as they are because they are more talented than the rest of us. Research and scientific evidence has shown that this is not the case.

In his book, Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin exposes the myth of talent for what it is, a myth.  He provides evidence that shows that the secret to top performance is the combination of perseverance, knowledge, deliberate practice, feedback and beliefs. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, also states that top performance and excellence is achieved after ca. 10,000 hours of practice.

Busting the myth of Talent has two side effects:

  1. It removes an excuse. Previously it was so easy to point to someone successful and just say: “Well, they have a talent for it, I do not”. The myth of talent absolved us of trying harder and putting in the hours of practice to become proficient at an activity.
  2. It is empowering for people who previously believed they could not achieve something and gave up on their dreams because they believed they were not talented. Now they know they can, if they put in the work.

What dreams the ‘talent myth’ stopped you from pursuing? Was it learning an instrument, taking up a new sport, becoming a confident presenter, a good leader or going for that promotion at work?  Colvin’s research shows that we do not need talent to learn or improve a skill; perseverance in one’s practice is what makes the difference, so does accumulating as much knowledge as possible about your chosen area.

Where have you resigned yourself to being mediocre because you believe you need ‘talent’? Often, when we do not seem to progress, how we practise or the areas we focus on are not suitable for us and our needs. What research as shown is that top performers (or their coach does it for them) develop a practice that is a specific to their needs. They seek regular feedback, through self-observation or external observation, which they use to adjust their practice. Top performers also work on their beliefs – they have core, empowering beliefs about themselves and their practice e.g. their work will pay off for them and they are responsible for their own success or failures.

Of course, not everyone wants to be great at everything and that is each person’s choice. If, however, there is an activity or something that you want to great at, I invite you now to ponder the following question:

What do you need to put in place for the five top performance principles (perseverance, knowledge, deliberate practice, feedback and beliefs) to improve your performance? Often, the first step to improvement is awareness. It is a good idea not only to look at gaps, i.e. what are you not doing now?, but also at fit, i.e. how effective is what you are doing?. It is important that your actions and timescales are specific to you. A coach or mentor can give input and feedback. You can learn from top performers and adopt some of their approaches to learning and practice. However, resist the temptation of copying them, as ultimately your practice has to be your own, matching your needs.

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