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Is Talent Overrated?

Right now I’m midway through a Mommy-Ed reading list designed to help foster resiliency in children. My most recent read is Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from EverybodyElse by Geoff Colvin. This book had a business focus instead of parenting, but it was still useful to me. Here’s a great quote to show you why:

“Many of the most successful people do seem to be highly intelligent. But what the research suggests very strongly is that the link between intelligence and high achievement isn’t nearly as powerful as we commonly suppose. Most important, the research tells us that intelligence as we usually think of it–a high IQ–is not a prerequisite to extraordinary achievement.” (p45)

In layman’s terms, you don’t have to be “gifted” to produce extraordinary achievement and high IQ is no guarantee of future success.

So what does Colvin believe engenders achievement? Deliberate practice, and lots of it. That means practicing to improve your weaknesses over and over again. I don’t recall if Colvin mentioned the so-called 10,o00 hour rule or not, but he seems to be describing the same idea.

There is an especially interesting section about violin players on pages 56-61 and how many practice hours they need to log become they become virtuosos. I’d love to have the mom from Homeschooling, or Who’s Ever Home read that part and tell me what she thinks, because her daughter Haley is extraordinarily talented at the violin. Or is it that Hayley just practices a heck of a lot more and a heck of a lot smarter than everybody else? Here’s a You Tube clip of 9 year old Haley performing Moto Perpetuo by Paganini. It will be the perfect accompaniment to the rest of my post. 🙂

So how do talent, IQ and success all fit together? If I were to throw in my own two cents, I would venture to guess that it has something to do with intensity and education begetting education. My grandpa was a wonderful violinist too, and he eventually became a member of the San Diego Symphony, but he didn’t just wake up one day and start playing the violin. He was probably just as awful as everyone else to start with. My grandpa was intensely focused however. Even as a retired adult, he was obsessed with music. He loved and pursued music of all types, and learned how to play and teach every single instrument but the organ. He also had parents and a brother who also played the violin. In fact, my great-grandparents courted in their local town orchestra. There was probably a lot of musical education begetting musical education in their household.

What Talent is Overrated means is that even if your child isn’t “gifted” maybe you should consider the idea that your child could be gifted at a certain subject, if he or she really put in the hours. Also, it takes a lot of hours for anyone to become good at something, so don’t let your kid give up too early. Make sure that your children know that with enough practice they will improve at anything. Then, keep your fingers crossed that at some point internal motivation will kick in and you won’t have to nag your kids do something that they are now good at.


  1. Donna says:

    I have been wanting to read that book…it’s on my Amazon wish list. I could talk on this topic for hours but I’ll keep it short.Haley showed a natural ability in music from a very early age but she also practices hours and hours a day plus prefers to spend most of her free time doing music related things. She has always been a good practicer and had the ability to focus on the details of playing at a very young age. If she had the “natural talent” without the love of practice, she would not be doing what she does today but I also think that having natural talent leads her to enjoy putting in the work because she sees results.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      The “doing music related things” part would fit in exactly with what the author means when he says “deliberate practice”.

      It’s all such a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” type of question I think. Talent or focus or practice? It’s all such a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” type of question I think.

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