One of the best little gadgets I’ve ever bought has got to be my Kindle, in the past when I found a book I wanted to read it called for a trip to the closest book store which is literally an hour drive, (ed note: reading is not a big priority in Southern Illinois) or I could order it online and wait for it to show up; now I just go online and download it straight to my Kindle.
I’ve been studying and playing chess regularly ever since I bought that chess board from a Goodwill store and while I got reaquainted with the game I found my abilities increased fairly quickly then suddenly began to plummit when I began actually trying increase my rating. In response I’ve been reading about chess training and in my studies the book, “Talent is Overrated” by Geoffrey Colvin keeps coming up, along with the number 10,000 hours. I’ve now read about half the book and highly recommend it.
The book is written from a business perspective but actually covers almost all disciplines where talent is thought to be a major factor in success. The theme so far as been that talent, if such a thing even exists, plays little role in the exceptional abilities that exceptional people possess.
Perhaps one reason why I like this book so much is that it reaffirms something I’ve always believed. I’ve never really thought that talent has that much to do with success and that hard work is the real key. Through my reading I keep saying to myself, that is exactly what I thought.
I think “Talent is Overrated” falls into that category of books that may be called, Science dumbed down. Several scientific reasearch studies are quoted and generalized but only as periphery evidence for the authors assertions. Is that a bad thing? Not at all, I don’t want to read reams of data and scientific study I just want to gist and that’s what “Talent is Overrated” offers.
“Talent is Overrated” explains how exceptional performance is gained from deliberate practice and the principal applies to not just mental disciplines like music and chess, but physical ones as well. Anyone whose spent any time training for cycling understands this well. If I want to be a better climber I’ve got to go ride hills, even better I should repeat the hills. If I want to be a faster climber I’ve got to push myself into the red zone on these hills for far longer than is comfortable. If you want success you’ve got to pay for it.
As I mentioned in my chess research the number 10,000 hours of deliberate practice keeps coming up. Since cycling is the only discipline I really know much about I decided to see how that stacked up. Pro cyclists put about 20,000 miles of training and racing into their legs each year. I’d wager a guess that on average that figures out to about 1000 hours per year. Most pros seem to get started actually training and racing around the age of 12-14 but from the bios I’ve read they probably don’t start putting in the serious mileage they need to break into the highest ranks until they’ve finished high school. It seems that the top racers are usually won by racers in their late 20s early 30s and I’d be willing to bet that they’ve all put in about ten years or 10,000 hours of hard work.
I can almost hear my friend JC’s voice telling me several years ago when I was trying push myself to ride faster and keep up with my brother, he said, “Face it, you’re as fast as you’re going to get, he’s always going to be faster, you just didn’t get the genes for it.” He’s told me several times that genetics and natural abilities are the biggest limiting factor in our performance in cycling and I’ve never really believed it. Yeah he’s got a point, Pro cyclists have genetic gifts that give them an advantage to process more oxygen, and naturally smaller athletes are always at an advantage when it comes to climbing hills, but I’m not trying to win the Tour de France, I just want to be able to hang on in a fast group ride and maybe one day toe the line at a race. I don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to do that, but I may have to work like him.
While the book offers two case studies, Mozart and Tiger Woods, there is plenty of evidence in my own life that indicates that talent really is overrated. I found that working hard on the trainer and mountain biking over the winter gave me an advantage this year, an advantage I feel like I partially squandered over the summer but that can be remedied next year. I’ve always said I was talentless in music but that is probably due to the fact that no one in my home played music and I was never exposed to music lessons or instruments. When I bought a guitar, the third time around, and actually forced myself to sit and practice I found I could play some chords and strum out some songs, but when I ran into some difficulty with my fingering that I couldn’t seem to overcome on my own I put the guitar up and it’s collected dust in my closet ever since.
So in closing if you’ve ever wondered what gives people seemingly super natural abilities read “Talent is Overrated” I’ve learned that my chess grand master certificate is easily in my reach, as my current rate of chess practice lies around 4 hours a week I’ll have it right around my 80th birthday.