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How Much Does Talent Really Matter?

Recently, I’ve come across some interesting thoughts on the nature and necessity of talent.

This morning, Zig Ziglar at Great Management asked Does talent always prevail? And the answer is, “No.” In his article, Zig tells the story of Peter Vidmar, Olympic gold medalist, and why he succeeded when other athletes were more talented. Here’s a quote from Vidmar’s coach:

Peter is not particularly talented. I’ve had boys who were more gifted physically, with more kinetic awareness, strength and flexibility. But Peter surpassed them all because of his singular determination.

Geoff Colvin wrote a book called Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else and argues a similar point. Here are a couple of quotes that underscore Zig’s thoughts on talent:

Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. This is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in. Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one’s hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone’s mental abilities. (p. 70)

If you believe that your performance is forever limited by your lack of a specific innate gift…, then there’s no chance at all that you will do the work. (But) If you believe that doing the right kind of work an overcome the problems, then you have at least a chance of moving on to ever better performance. What you really believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation of all you will ever achieve. (p. 205)

What Zig and Geoff remind us to do is to not buy fully into the “Cult of Talent” that has taken root in our culture, the idea that if you weren’t born with a gift you’re out of luck. It actually doesn’t work like that. The reality is more liberating…and more challenging. It means that if we develop a habit of deliberate practice where we continually push ourselves, we can achieve more than we might otherwise believe. It doesn’t mean that innate talent is meaningless, it just means that it’s not everything.

Personally, where I struggle most is in trying to determine where to fully dedicate myself. My Renaissance Soulseems to rebel against the notion of selecting just one thing to dedicate my mental focus. I can’t claim to have a lot of answers to this question. How do you navigate the task of deciding where to place your dedication and create a deliberate practice plan? Love to hear your thoughts.

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