Outliers, Talent Is Overrated, And Others – Creating Conversations About Success

I’m a little fuzzy on “the point” of this article in Slate.com.  But I know this, she is right about the popularity of Outliers, and the overall subject.

Here’s the article:  Give It a Rest, Genius — What the new success books don’t tell you about superachievement by Ann Hulbert.  Of the books discussed in the article, I have presented synopses of two:  Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

She describes the (relatively) new-found fixation on the 10,000 hour rule.  She is right to say that Colvin’s Talent is Overrated is more specific, more “demanding” than Outliers.  Here are a couple of paragraphs from her article:

In their calculus of success, these books endorse perspiration over inspiration as the key to extraordinary performance. The prevailing term is “deliberate practice,” introduced by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist cited in every one of these books for research that has led to the “10,000-hour rule.” That’s how much intensely focused training it takes to reach the expert level, in any field. Coyle’s more New Age coinage is “deep practice.”

Higher expectations can indeed work wonders for anyone, but truly relentless drive is a rarity. Amid all the recycled material in Bounce, Syed offers a sobering firsthand reminder from the sports front: The necessary fanatical commitment to mastery is most commonly inspired by competition, which has a way of winnowing ruthlessly. But in an era when plenty of American workers feel we’re running in place and just barely keeping up, the mixed message of this genre is one we’re understandably more eager to hear: Maybe we don’t have to become magnitudes more frenetic than we already are—just a whole lot more focused—and we, too, stand a chance of zooming ahead.

I remember this thought from Lewis’ Moneyball.  By the time a baseball player is a young adult, it is simply too late to teach him not to swing at a ball.  Here’s the quote:

What most scouts thought of as a learned skill of secondary importance (the ability to take a lot of pitches) the A’s management had come, through hard experience, to view virtually as a genetic trait, and the one most likely to lead to baseball success.

The A’s acknowledged that it probably could be taught – if you could begin at about age 5…

So, what does all of this say to us as adults in the actual pursuit of current and future success.  I think two things:

1.  You may not ever be world class, but you can get better with deliberate practice. For example, do you speak, and is speaking a key part of your path to success?  Then watch yourself on video, hire a speech coach, scrutinize every part of your speaking, from content, to delivery, to gestures, to eye contact.  Extrapolate this principle into any work you actually do.  Watch yourself do it.  Hire a coach to catch your flaws (you’ll probably not be able to see them – and, I hate to tell you – you do have some!).  You have to work hard at developing the talent needed to excel.

2.  Every job requires this kind of attention to get better. You know that line “this call might be monitored.”  I wonder if anybody who monitors such calls is doing so to help the people on the calls get better, or are they just trying to catch them doing something wrong?

Help yourself, and others, get better – day in and day out — by focusing on getting better.  That may be the take-away message of these books!

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You can purchase my synopses of both Outliers and Talent is Overrated, with audio + handouts, at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

One thought on “Outliers, Talent Is Overrated, And Others – Creating Conversations About Success

  1. Goyo Marquez

    Haven’t read the article. But I think what those books are getting at is more fundamental and that’s what Carol Dweck a Stanford professor tries to get at in her book, Mindset, that intelligence, personality, talent is not fixed but growable. Her studies demonstrate that people who believe math ability, for example, is growable do better at learning math than people who think math ability is fixed or genetic, or some such.

    The biggest educational roadblock we have in the US is this idea that ability is innate, that talent is genetic, that results are predetermined. These books are at least fighting against that.

    Reply

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