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Book Summary: “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

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I recently read “Talent Is Overrated,” by Geoff Colvin, and thought I’d share a brief report on the things I found most valuable, especially since it’s all related to becoming more effective.

Mr. Colvin’s primary message is that people are not born with all the natural talent and abilities that will make them great it life. He asserts that, aside from some physical atributes that may give an athlete an advantage in a particular sport, everyone can achieve world-class performance through “deliberate practice” in his or her chosen field - business, music, sports, etc. 

In his opening chapter, Mr. Colvin proceeds to debunk the commonly held beliefs that Tiger Woods and Mozart were simply born with the innate ability to excel at golf or music composition. Mr. Colvin argues that any of us may have been as great in either of these two fields, had we been born to Earl Woods or Leopold Mozart, their mentor fathers. He writes, “neither Tiger nor his father suggested that Tiger came into this world with a gift for golf.” He goes on to quote Tiger Woods himself, “‘Golf for me was an apparent attempt to emulate the person I looked up to more than anyone: my father.’ Asked to explain Tiger’s phenomenal success, father and son always gave the same reason: hard work.”

The author explains, drawing several research-based conclusions, that the secret – deliberate practice – is designed, can be repeated a lot, requires constant feedback, is highly demanding mentally,  and isn’t much fun.

He goes on to say, “If it seems a bit depressing that the most important thing you can do to improve performance is no fun, take consolation in this fact: It must be so. If the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them and they would not distinguish the best from the rest. The reality that deliberate practice is hard can even be seen as good news. It means that most people won’t do it. So your willingness to do it will distinguish you all the more.”

At this point in my reading I couldn’t get a famous quote by George Washington Carver out of my mind (apologies for repeating this in an earlier posting):

“People who do the common things in this life uncommonly well will command the attention of the world!”

Mr. Colvin’s book quite simply supports the premise our organization, FranklinCovey, is founded upon. That is, that everyone and every organization has the potential to achieve greatness. It is our mission “to enable greatness in individuals and organizations everywhere.”

Each of us might feel compelled, therefore, to ask this question daily, “What have I done today that will bring me closer to greatness?” It proves to be within our reach.

Will you grasp it?

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9 Comments to Book Summary: “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin

Curtis Manchoon
August 25, 2010

Hi Todd,

I am the FranklinCovey licensee for the West Indies, based in Trinidad and Tobago. I have been evaluating PhD’s in Leadership and saw that you did a Walden PhD. Would you be willing to share with me your experience with Walden. We are in the same field, doing the same kind of work, and so I feel that you would understand what I am looking for.

I look forward to hearing from you, and I may see you in SLC in September?


[...]  Talent is overrated. Hay versión en español. Geoff Colvin.  [...]

February 5, 2011

[...]  Talent is overrated. Hay versión en español. Geoff Colvin.  [...] THE POOKA [...]

February 24, 2011

I really don’t accept this premise. The author only went backwards – from highly successful people to the cause of their success. He did not look at the other side – many people, dare I say millions, who have mentors and practice well but still don’t succeed. Some of them lack the talent. I think talent is not overrated. But one thing that does come out is the importance of “legacy.” By that I mean having someone around that can mentor you and teach you the tricks of the trade. So legacy (mentors), talent, and hard work (e.g. practice under the mentor’s guide) is the winning formula here. It’s the legacy (mentor) that most folks lack.

April 2, 2011

Apparently you have not read the book, please read and then comment! If you are commenting on the summary, you are missing some very important points in the book.

[...] a May 12, 2009 post for titled, “Book Summary: ‘Talent is Overrated’ by Geoff Colvin,” Todd Wangsgard reviewed Colvin’s book describing his theories about [...]

Michael Horton
April 21, 2013

I blogged about how “Talent is Overrated” applies to principals leading teachers. The book really can be applied in a lot of different situations. Great book.


Adeniyi Ranti
September 30, 2013

Let me quickly say I have not read the book. Does the author agree that we all have strengths and weaknesses?
Success in any thing is faster and almost guaranteed when there is deliberate practice in the area of your strengths. If you want to be a sales person and you are naturally persuasive, empathy and ego drive and deliberately practices to develop them, you are likely going to succeed faster than one low in these traits but practices deliberately.

December 7, 2014

Amazing article you’ve written here clearly you are very talented!

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