Talent is Overrated


Few people are ferociously efficient in what they do. People like Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Jack Welch, Mohammed Ali, Celine Dion and many more are embodiments of success in their respective domains. Asked to explain why these people truly excelled, most of us will say they possess an innate talent for excelling in their fields. That’s ok, but the trouble is; there is no scientific evidence that support the notion that specific natural talents make great performers.

So, what’s the solution to the mystery of high performance? According to author Geoff Colvin, what really makes all the difference is a highly specific kind of effort called “deliberate practice”. Colvin shows that great performance isn’t reserved for a preordained few who are talented. But anybody who relentlessly directs his energies to a specific field will inadvertently be a great performer.

It’s out of Colvin’s findings that I delved deep into the backgrounds of the mentioned great performers and actually realized that they were not born talented. They just unyieldingly dedicated their energies to their respective domains at a tender age with the aid of their mentors. That’s what we refer to as “deliberate practice”. Let’s have a sneak peek at their backgrounds and see whether they’ll corroborate with Calvin’s notion.

Tiger Woods

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Researchers on great performance sometimes call Tiger Woods the Mozart of golf, and the parallels do seem striking. Woods’ father, Earl, was a teacher, specifically a teacher of young men, and he had a lifelong passion for sports. Tiger was born into the home of an expert golfer and confessed “golf addict” who loved to teach and was eager to begin teaching his new son as soon as possible. Earl gave Tiger his first metal golf club, at the age of seven months.

Before Tiger was 2 years old, they were at the golf course playing and practicing regularly. Neither Tiger nor his father suggested that Tiger came into this world with a gift for golf. Tiger has repeatedly credited his father for his success. Asked to explain Tiger’s phenomenal success, father and son always gave the same reason: relentless hard work.

Jack Welch

According to Wikipedia, Jack Welch is a retired American business executive, author and Chemical engineer. He was chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. During his tenure at GE, the company’s value rose by 4000%. While he was young, he showed no particular inclination towards business, even into his mid-20s. He majored not in business or economics but in chemical engineering and earned a master’s and a Ph.D. in that field. At 25, he decided to accept an offer to work in a chemical development operation at General Electric. He later rose within the ranks and became the best CEO. His high performance is not attributed to talent but “deliberate practice”.


Mohammed Ali

An excerpt from History.com states that; Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., the elder son of Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. (1912-1990) and Odessa Grady Clay (1917-1994), was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. Clay later changed his name to Mohammed Ali in 1964 after joining the Nation of Islam. It was a red-and-white Schwinn that steered the future heavyweight champion to the sport of boxing. When his beloved bicycle was stolen, a tearful 12-year-old Clay reported the theft to Louisville police officer Joe Martin (1916-1996) and vowed to pummel the culprit. Martin, who was also a boxing trainer, suggested that the upset youngster first learn how to fight, and he took Clay under his wing. Six weeks later, Clay won his first bout in a split decision.


Kobe Bryant

kobeKobe Bean Bryant was born August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Kobe Bryant is the son of former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant. In 1984, after ending his NBA career, the elder Bryant took the family to Italy where he played on the Italian League. Growing up in Italy alongside two athletic older sisters, Shaya and Sharia, Kobe was an avid player of both basketball and soccer. When the family returned to Philadelphia in 1991, Bryant joined the Lower Merion high school basketball team, leading it to the state championships four years in a row. With an eye on the NBA, he also started working out with the 76ers. Though he boasted good grades and high SAT scores, Bryant decided to go straight to the NBA from high school. In 1996, he was picked by Charlotte in the draft, and was subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Celine Dion

Celine Marie Claudette Dion was born on March 30, 1968, in Charlemagne, Quebec, Canada. The youngest of 14 children of Adhemar and Therese Dion, she grew up in a close-knit musical family. Her parents formed a singing group, Dion’s Family, and they toured Canada when Celine was still an infant. They later opened a piano bar, where the 5-year-old Celine would perform to the delight of customers. At the age of 12, Celine Dion recorded a demo tape of a song she had written with her mother. This is according to biography.com.

This overwhelming evidence offers no easy assurances. It shows that the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high. Perhaps it’s inevitable that not many people will choose to pay it. But the evidence shows also that by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better. 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, me and to everyone.



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