Talent Is Overrated

Geoff Colvin helps build the case that practice, practice, practice is the ticket rather than the media view that people accomplish masterful things through some sort of magic, not the hard realities of practice. Movies and television convey a sense that talent is a gift and all someone with talent has to do is show up. Think of the depiction of Mozart in the movies. He walks in and shows up old try hard, practice hard, Salieri. It must be a gift from heaven that Mozart had. How else could it be explained that Mozart was so good so young?

Absent is the fact that Mozart was tutored by his composer, author, teacher  father who put Mozart through an intensive training in composition and performing starting at age three. Also missing is the fact that Mozart’s father was fascinated with the challenge of teaching young people about music and would explore new methods of instructions. Just teaching was not Mozart’s father’s goal, but getting into the mind and soul of his student son to give him the best education possible at the time. And Mozart’s practice time was not limited to a little here, a little there. Thousands of hours of practice structured and monitored by his father.

We can be so easily seduced by the magic of the media. Gifts from heaven, that is so much more appealing than hours of working one’s tail off.

Colvin’s Principles

“Great performance is in our hands far more than most of us ever suspect,” writes Geoff Colvin. How much we practice and how we practice carries great power.  Putting in the hours is necessary but we have to carefully structure our practice sessions like Mozart’s father did for him. Colvin calls this way of practicing Deliberate Practice.  Evidence is strong that Deliberate Practice can turn someone of unremarkable endowments into a much better, even exceptional performer in their creative field.

Here are some of his major points on Deliberate Practice:

Carefully Design Your Practice – Design practice sessions specifically to improve performance. No casual puttering around, break down what you want to master into chucks you can watch, think about, stand back from, and get other people’s observations on and honesty about. If possible, get a mentor or the best expert you can find to help define what is real practice for you.

Watch Your Zones – We have three zones we can practice in: the comfort zone, the learning zone, and the panic zone. A carefully designed Deliberate Practice program will not keep us in our comfort zone but will push us to do and be more.  By consistently getting us and keeping us in our learning zone we develop skills that had been previously outside our grasp.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat – Sorry, no shortcuts here. Practice consistently in your learning zone. Learn to overcome: your resistance to practice, your lack of planning to set aside time for practice, your happiness to quit when practice gets tough, boring, or scary. Don’t be afraid to do an obscene amount of practice if your goal is to get to the highest levels in your creative field.

Fight the Fear of Feedback, Get It – Keep score, keep stats, put yesterday’s practice next to today’s, seek opinions from those you trust, and compare your practice with others.

Deliberate Practice produces major effects: those who follow this path sharpen their perceptions so they can perceive more in their work and the work of others. They also learn more than the average Creative as they study their own work, the work of their teachers, and the work of masters.

Read this book twice. Once to break free of the grip of the media and a second time to lay out your own Deliberate Practice program.

Order Geoff Colvin’s book Talent Is Overrated here.

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