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Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  12,189 Ratings  ·  730 Reviews
One of the most popular Fortune articles in many years was a cover story called "What It Takes to Be Great." Geoff Colvin offered new evidence that top performers in any field—from Tiger Woods and Winston Churchill to Warren Buffett and Jack Welch—are not determined by their inborn talents. Greatness doesn't come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decad ...more
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Published October 30th 2008 by Tantor Media (first published 2008)
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Dec 10, 2008 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Colvin set out to answer this question: "What does great performance require?" In this volume, he shares several insights generated by hundreds of research studies whose major conclusions offer what seem to be several counterintuitive perspectives on what is frequently referred to as "talent." (See Pages 6-7.) In this context, I am reminded of Thomas Edison's observation that "vision without execution is hallucination." If Colvin were asked to paraphrase that to indicate his own purposes in this ...more
This is a fun book that starts out in a vein similar to Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers". Later the emphasis of the book changes, and becomes a self-help book. For best performance, the name of the game is "practice", and not any old practice--it must be focused, deliberate, planned practice. This practice is not just for musicians; it is for every type of career, in business, sales, marketing, engineering--you name it, practice is what it takes. This type of practice can be mentally taxing, and ve ...more
This was surprising in some ways. The start of it is pretty much Gladwell’s Outliers, the end is pretty well Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and the middle is about the least interesting part of the book. So, I guess I would recommend those two books rather than this one, except that there were some things about this that made the whole thing worthwhile.

I’m more convinced than ever that talent is overrated. What is talent? Essentially it is directly connected with performance
Sep 06, 2009 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-by-kate
The takeaway from this approachable book is that a particular kind of practice--what Colvin refers to as "deliberate practice"--is what allows mere mortals (who include all of us, even Mozart, he argues) to painstakingly climb toward world-class performance in our respective fields. Colvin spends a few chapters arguing that talent, an inborn gift most of us assume is responsible for world-class performance, is a slippery concept whose cause-and-effect relationship to excellence hasn't been born ...more
Tom Tabasco
Mar 14, 2013 Tom Tabasco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Insightful analysis of excellence and excellent performance in any field. The point of the book is in the title: the concept of "innate talent", when it comes to great performance, is overrated in our society, because the number 1 element that generates great performance is something else. Taking the term from a paper published years ago by someone else, the author identifies this "holy grail" of excellence in "deliberate performance", that means: whoever is ready to spend more time than the oth ...more
Mark Fallon
Dec 04, 2011 Mark Fallon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of, if not THE best book I read this year. Some of this book supported theories I've read in other books (the "10-year rule" and "deliberate practice"), yet Colvin presented the ideas backed with more research. This book reinforced my beliefs on the benefits of coaching. Colvin also pointed out specific ways to apply this knowledge to business.

The last chapter, "Where Does Passion Come From?", has inspired me to add the books and articles from the "Resources" section to my reading list.

Jul 01, 2013 Andy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is overrated.
After meandering for several chapters through what does not lead to high performance, Colvin finally gets around to arguing that the secret is "deliberate practice." This turns out basically to be Flow, so I would recommend just reading that book, which is by the scientist who originally described the concept, and is I think a much more interesting and useful work. Flow The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Beyond that, Colvin mixes apples and oranges in terms of what "talent" means. Winning at something isn't the
Robyn Blaber
Well, I think I could have written this book and made it a lot shorter. 3 stars is perhaps low considering that the research was good... and that I agree with the author's findings. It's just that the conclusion was obvious. How do you advance to a world class at some skill? Malcolm Gladwell explained that in his book outliers; simply spend 10,000 hours at a thing. You'll become a master.

Colvin points out that many people spend years... 10,000 hours plus at a task, however they never achieve wor
May 17, 2010 E rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Telling examination of the power of practicing

Author Geoff Colvin rejects the popular notion that the genius of a Tiger Woods, a Mozart or a Warren Buffett is inborn uniquely to only a few individuals. He cites research that refutes the value of precocious, innate ability and he provides numerous examples of the intensely hard work that high achievement demands. Best performers’ intense, “deliberate practice” is based on clear objectives, thorough analysis, sharp feedback, and layered, systemati
I couldn't put it down...(although the sections devoted to acheiving world class excellence in the coprporate realm did drag ...revelatory of my lack of interest in the business of business). It is a very straightforward read: competent prose, a degree of it researh based,that provides insight into what separates those elite individuals at the very top of their chosen fields (golf, football,sales,music,chess,invention,chairmanship of mega corporations,comedy,physics,medical analysis, etc). Colvi ...more
Dec 26, 2012 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There have been a number of books lately that attempt to disabuse us of the myth of talent -- that some people are born gifted, like Mozart or Tiger Woods. When you look into the details of such cases, you almost always find a passionate parent, a good understanding of the field of expertise, and hours and hours of practice. Both Mozart and Woods had all of these. Colvin asks us to replace the idea that people are born gifted with the idea that anyone who's willing to put in the time can do wond ...more
May 09, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of this book should be 'Talent is Irrelevant,' as that's essentially the author's argument. I guess he wanted to hedge his bets, and he does grudgingly acknowledge (in the last few pages) that innate capacities *may* play some role in performance, particularly in regard to physical skills. But his constant assertion, which runs very much contrary to popular belief, is that there is no real evidence for innate or genetic abilities playing any role in the success of world-class performer ...more
Naumann Shaheen
Mar 03, 2015 Naumann Shaheen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A marvellous exposition on the realities of motivation and excellence. Colvin masterfully highlights how exceptional performers are distinct from average ones. Many people often use the excuse of talent as a foundation for excellence and Colvin explains how this is simply not the case. He argues that exceptional performance is achieved by deliberate practice - practice which forces one outside of their comfort zone. Though it sounds straightforward, there are some caveats to this form of practic ...more
Jessica Zu
Aug 04, 2011 Jessica Zu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: leisure
There are numerous good points about this book: good information based on solid scientific research; pretty good writing (not master level but close); cogent argument and so on. That being said, this book leaves several threads hanging: why experience does not necessarily led to mastery and what distinguish learning through deliberate practice from normal working experience.

As a Chinese, I am totally buying into this because that's what I grow up with. And I think this book explains why Chinese
Aug 11, 2011 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as a primer to the study of expertise, which is something I'd like to learn more about academically. So my rating of 3 stars is more a reflection of my intrinsic interest in the topic than the quality of the book. As a piece of writing and reporting, I'd put it at 2 stars--Colvin is at his best when he is explaining Anders Ericsson's research, but a bit out of his depth when he tries to draw independent conclusions.

Like several popularizations of social psychology theories I've read
May 03, 2012 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fun-nonfiction
A continuation of the discussion I first read about in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story Of Success - are high-achieving performers naturally talented or is it the result of hard work? Talent Is Overrated sides with Gladwell in that hard work is the defining bit and pure, native talent is truly hard to find, but it goes farther in examining the type of hard work necessary to produce greatness, specifically, "deliberate practice": identifying weak areas and following a comprehensive plan to ...more
Mar 18, 2010 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, science
Highly recommended book about how to achieve a high level of performance in any field or endeavor.

The author refutes the notion of talent and the idea that we are born with abilities and predispositions that allow to to excel in some areas (math, music, sports, etc) relative to others. The thesis of the book is essentially to prove the saying that "perfect practice makes perfect" and he builds on Malcolm Gladwell's idea in "Outliers" that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at
Amanda Paulin
Jan 12, 2015 Amanda Paulin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was extremely inspiring for me. I can take ideas from Talent Is Overrated and apply it to almost every aspect of my life. I can apply it to my life as a career woman, learning new skills as a senior leader, all the way to the fitness journey I am currently on. It explores the idea that we can learn almost anything we set our minds to, and that perhaps the "talented" have really done just that! As someone who has never been naturally athletic, or graceful, or poised...This is great news ...more
Mario Tomic
Dec 30, 2014 Mario Tomic rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book, after you read it, any limiting beliefs you have about innate abilities as an excuse not to putting in the required effort will disappear from your mind. You'll discover the truth of success behind the so called naturally "gifted" individuals such as Mozart or Tiger Woods. This book is really motivating to read, it reveals the correct mindsets on how to achieve mastery in a certain field and become a high performer. I highly recommend this book to you, it will open your mind to new ...more
For those interested in this topic, I'd suggest instead Daniel Coyle's "The Talent Code" and Paul Tough's "How Children Succeed." While I'm sold on the basic premise of this book, the author often seems to skim the surface, not discussing the effect of biased environments (sexism, racism, poverty) on developing human potential, for example. There was far too much about the business world for my taste - and one could argue that this sort of "talent" is of another nature entirely and so not releva ...more
Oct 12, 2012 Eric rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When looking at the greats in a field, particularly artistic and athletic fields, people tend to focus on the prodigies. Mozart was composing as a child. Tiger Woods was golfing as a toddler. People tend to assume they had some unnatural talent or passion that led them to greatness. In TALENT IS OVERRATED, Geoff Colvin shows why these stories are just myths. It’s practice not passion, testing not talent, that makes someone great.

Chris Wolak
I have a two hour commute each day and usually listen to free podcasts about books or running, but I recently discovered that I can download audio books for free from the library via My Media Mall. I have a hard time with audio books because the reader's voice and performance can quickly kill a book for me. Its all I can do right now to restrain myself from boring you with stories of bad audio books past. I'm still traumatized by an especially horrific Moby Dick experience. Suffice it to say now ...more
Merce Cardus
Mar 31, 2014 Merce Cardus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
InTalent is Overrated , Geoff Colvin tells how even though most people spend a great deal of hours working, they perform just okay—not awesomely, not amazingly, not world-class excellent.

When asked to explain why a few people are excellent at what they do, most of us have two answers. The first one is hard work. If you work hard, you’ll be fine. And those get along perfectly acceptably but never become particularly good at it. Second, the great good fortune to discover their natural gift (usuall
Michael Valentiner
While I agree with the general premise of the book, that hard work is the key to success and achievement, I didn't really like the book. I found it long winded, repetitive, and often not very convincing. The author never really defines what "talent" is, almost denies its existence in the first chapters, then down plays its importance in the later chapters. This is an age old debate. It is nature AND nurture that make us who we are. And yes, hard work is what really makes the difference.
Vikram Kalkura
Hmmmm. Not sure if this is one of the best books under this concept. I feel The Talent Code was far better since they had a lot of examples in every chosen field they spoke about. Yes, talent is overrated. What makes a person world class performer is the practice. Not just practicing but practicing in the right way. Every detail needs to be practiced to make the person best. But practice is boring and miserable way to spend the time. But the desire to be a world class will make the practice enjo ...more
Great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and to everyone.
Sep 21, 2016 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Always have to remember to have purposeful practice time!
This book looks at a variety of studies to challenge the view that most of us have -- that talent is innate. Colvin suggests that although there may be natural proclivities in children that a far more important factor is what he calls "deliberate practice," that is hours and hours of practice at a skill focusing on improving a person's weaknesses. Studies also show that practice should start in early childhood and that a certain number of years, the magic number seems to be ten, are required for ...more
Nov 24, 2009 Diana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
I took this book out of the library and read it over two days. The writing style was dry at times, but clearly written and well organized. Colvin sets up the book by deconstructing what talent is *not* -- an inborn gift, a genetic predisposition, or even exposure at an early age. It's sort of what you expect -- the product of hard work -- but with a twist: it's the repetitive practice of the key (and often difficult) skills underpinning success, putting in the hours even when you don't feel like ...more
Rob the Obscure
This book gave me insight into why I do not have any hope of becoming a world-class jazz bassist at the age of 54 when I have been playing double bass for 3 years and maintaining a full-time day gig! (I did benefit by playing electric bass for a number of years prior to taking up the double bass.)


I'll have to be content to play as well as I am able and be grateful that wonderful musicians allow me to play with them.

At any rate...the book summarizes some very interesting research that debu
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Creativity and Passion 1 21 Nov 27, 2009 11:11AM  
Deliberate Practice Fueled By Passion 1 23 Nov 27, 2009 11:01AM  
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  • Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Geoff (Geoffrey) Colvin has a degree in economics from Harvard and an M.B.A. from New York University. He is an author, a broadcaster, and speaker. He is also Senior Editor-at-Large of Fortune Magazine.
More about Geoff Colvin...

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“deliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on them.” 4 likes
“What great performers have achieved is the ability to avoid doing it automatically.” 4 likes
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