Talent is Overrated; Deliberate Practice is What Makes Great Performance
I was first introduced to Geoff Colvin‘s book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else, on a first date nearly four years ago. It was the afternoon of August 18, 2012, and we were walking toward Hell’s Kitchen, after visiting the Intrepid Museum. He was a shy English as a Foreign Language teacher who had lived in Korea, Germany, and France. He moved to New York City from Norfolk, where he had sung in the Virginia Opera and gave guitar lessons.
I thought, “This man is talented far beyond any of my achievements”, including as a college third baseman and being cut in the first round of the 1996 U.S. Olympic softball team. He told me how his mom claimed he sang jazz scales as a toddler. He humbly dismissed the story’s potential for truth or that it was any indication of some divine talent, even if the story was true. He introduced me to the book, which challenged what I thought I knew about myself and all of the talented people I knew: at the Youth Performing Arts School (“YPAS”) attached to my high school and middle school, on the minor league sports teams where I worked, or in the classrooms, corporate offices, courtrooms, and other places I visited.
It was confronting. if I was not a top performer in softball after all of my years of practicing and playing on multiple teams simultaneously, could it really be that I didn’t practice deliberately, or the right skills? Yes.
I played for a variety of reasons: popularity, validation, college application-building, and fun. But being world-class was only on my radar to the extent that it might prove to others that I had value. I didn’t deliberately practice my base running or hitting in the ways my idol, Dot Richardson, did. I thought I either had the speed and talent, or I didn’t. I never considered that I could do squats, uphill sprints, cross-training, and hitting drills with the focus on results that I now use in my business and post-injury workouts.
Maybe I missed an opportunity to be an Olympic Gold Medalist, but there are Senior Olympic Games that I can still pursue in a few more years, if I choose. There is nothing gained by focusing on choices I made more than 20 years ago, when I have a world of possibilities ahead of me. I need only choose what is more important to me than softball was in 1994: conflict resolution, in my life and the lives of others.
In all honesty, this was probably my greater commitment, even back then. I just know now that I’m not going to resolve much through alcohol or anything outside of myself. I’ve spent more than 10,000 hours developing my self-reflection, listening, investigation, and analysis skills so that I can heal my life and empower others to do the same. As I read Colvin’s book, I started thinking of ways to continue building these skills and which I need to deliberately practice. Here are my initial thoughts on skills I can deliberately practice for world-class performance in private conflict resolution:
- Budgeting my time
- Budgeting my money
- 15-minute power calls
- Strategic planning