“Is Talent Overrated?”

Do you attribute high performance to genes or deliberate practice? It’s an age-old debate – but recent studies favor the latter.

The Nature versus Nurture debate remains a core philosophical issue in the field of psychology and beyond. For example, are people who turn out to be highly accomplished athletes, musicians or academics genetically predisposed to be successful in their fields, or is their success largely a result of hard work and deliberate practice? Everyone knows that both are important, but the debate goes on as to which one of the two is more decisive. The pendulum is swinging back and forth, but the “nurture” case has certainly gained increased traction in recent years.

Deliberate Practice

Author Geoff Colvin rejects the notion of genius as innate talent or ability. He cites research showing that talent is a poor indicator of future achievement. Rather, what counts is practice. But just logging as many hours as possible practicing a skill won’t lead to the breakthrough. Practice has to be smart and deliberate. Great performers pay a lot of attention to details and constantly repeat small skills, even the ones they use only occasionally. The fact is that great performers pay a high, painful price – and only few people have the drive to pay it. Success is not predestined by the luck of the DNA raffle, or limited to just a few. If you really desire it, and you’re willing to sweat for it, higher performance awaits you:

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Talent Is Overrated

Talent still matters, but deliberate practice trumps it. Why focus and hard work matter more than innate ability.

Geoff Colvin Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Grit

Psychologist Angela Duckworth uses the term “grit” to describe the combination of perseverance and passion present in high-performing individuals – from Olympic athletes to Nobel Prize winners. Those who excel in a given field work hard, her research has revealed, sustain their unwavering passion over many years and persist when obstacles emerge. In an address to students at the 2017 Aspen Challenge in Philadelphia, Duckworth cites a study of graduates from West Point, an elite US military academy, where researchers found no correlation between talent and the likelihood of finishing the grueling program. The only reliable predictor of completion was the students’ grit – their determination to work hard, even through adversity:

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Grit

“Grit” is the single most important quality for achieving excellence.

Angela Duckworth Aspen Institute

Relentlessness

Relentless: That’s how Tim S. Grover, who worked with basketball champions including Michael Jordan, Dwayne Wade and the late Kobe Bryant, calls the mind-set that distinguishes great from merely solid athletes. People who are relentless are not just mentally tough – they never quit. Being relentless does not require special physical traits, brilliant intellect or great talent, Grover explains. Relentlessness is a mind-set that anyone who has decided that “good enough” won’t do can adopt:

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Relentless

The toughest competitors are as relentless and resolute as champion athletes.

Tim S. Grover and Shari Wenk Scribner

I know, your grandmother already told you: Practice makes perfect! But the latest research suggests that there is substance to the old adage – with one caveat: Practice mindfully and deliberately. And, most importantly: Never give up!

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