Deliberate practice, not innate ability Print
Wednesday, 17 December 2008 09:33

Is Talent Really That Important?
By Laura Vanderkam
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Geoff Colvin argues that 'deliberate practice,' not innate ability, is the true key to world-class performance.

...It is a provocative thesis, which Colvin first put forth in a 2006 Fortune article that ignited a furious debate in the blogosphere. Like Malcolm Gladwell, who has also written a new book on top talent (Outliers), Colvin is deft at finding studies and anecdotes to back up his assertions. For example, he highlights one study which found that top violinists put in more than twice as many hours of solo practice as their lesser peers. And he describes how comedian Chris Rock hones his act at small clubs, so that by the time he plays larger venues he knows exactly how the audience will react to each joke.

The story of the Polgar sisters, which Colvin tells at length, also seems to undermine the notion of God-given talent. In the 1960s, Hungarian educational psychologist Laszlo Polgar postulated that great performers are made, not born. To test this theory, he designed an experiment. Polgar and his wife, Klara, devoted their lives to turning their three daughters into brilliant chess players. Laszlo was only a mediocre player, and Klara hadn't played much at all, but they filled their home with chess books and homeschooled their girls so they could spend several hours each day mastering the game. As a result, their oldest daughter, Susan, was eventually named a grand master. The other daughters also became top players.

Even the usual stories of prodigies-such as Mozart and Tiger Woods-indicate that "deliberate practice" is more important than God-given ability. Mozart started playing the piano at age 3 under the tutelage of a father whose coaching methods had a lot in common with Laszlo Polgar's chess instruction. Mozart did not compose his best symphonies until he had been studying composition and practicing-hard-for well over a decade. Tiger Woods began playing golf as a toddler under the guidance of his father, an excellent coach. By the time he started winning major titles in 1997, he had been honing his game daily for 20 years.

Colvin's message to readers is clear: if you want to perform at a world-class level, you can. You simply have to put in many hard hours of "deliberate practice."

Here is the full article.

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