“Talent is Overrated” and Deliberate Practice

Just finished reading “Talent is Overrated”, by Geoff Colvin, which Ii read on the advice of Cal Newport.  It’s a great book for anyone who doesn’t have the stomach for turgid academic writing but wants to understand what the buzzphrase “deliberate practice” breaks down to.

SPOILER ALERT: For Colvin, deliberate practice, not talent or genes, is the secret to success in any field.  And deliberate practice is:

  1. Activity specifically designed to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help
  2. It can be repeated a lot (and must be!)
  3. Feedback on results needs to be continuously available
  4. It’s highly demanding of the mind and the body
  5. It isn’t much fun

The last one is kind of interesting, and answers the question of why so few people become amazingly good at anything.  But it raises a question of its own: if deliberate practice is so un-fun, why do people do it?

Colvin has an interesting answer to this, related to flow.  “Flow” (of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi fame is a rather pleasant state in which you are just buy enough to be not-bored but not so busy that you’re stressed.

Colvin’s thesis is that when you relax from a bout of deliberate practice you are in flow, and your ability to flow gets better and better the more deliberate practice you do, because deliberate practice makes you (slowly!) better and better at doing your stuff, which feels good.

In other words, Colvin believes that deliberate practice, like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer, feels good once you stop.

One thought on ““Talent is Overrated” and Deliberate Practice”

  1. Thanks for the cliff notes on this, Dan — great premise. 🙂
    Highly applicable to artists, writers, athletes, and any skill that you’re “weak” in, but have the genuine desire, determination, and self-perceived “need” to excel at (or at least get markedly better). Applies to Emotional Intelligence, too….which more of the world struggles with than previously thought or acknowledged. Just look around… 😉

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