Book Review: Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

By Maria Peagler

Oct 16
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I just finished reading my favorite book of 2012: Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everyone Else by Geoff Colvin. Why was it my favorite?

Because it blows the lid off of the idea of inborn talent is what it takes to succeed. Super athletes like Tiger Woods and Jerry Rice, chess masters like Bobby Fisher, and even YOU (you’re an expert in your field, right?) aren’t gifted from birth. Instead, they follow a highly specific type of training called deliberate practice. That’s the entire premise of the book, and while I highly recommend you read it on your own, what follows is my own review and how it applies to business and professionals who want to stay at the top of their game.

Practice in the Right Zone

Deliberate practice is much more enjoyable if you are that zone where you seem to lose track of time, as detailed in the book Flow by Mikail Csikszentmihalyi. Succinctly described, being in a state of flow when it comes to deliberate practice, is putting yourself in the Learning Zone. If you’re in your Comfort Zone, you not learning anything new. If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you’re in the Panic Zone where you don’t get anything done because you’re overwhelmed. So being in the Learning Zone is the sweet spot for your deliberate practice.

5 Elements of Deliberate Practice

First, this type of pushing yourself to learn something new is not at all like any corporate training, piano lessons, or sports practice you’ve ever done. It’s a highly-specific type of focused activity designed to do one thing: improve your performance.

The five elements of deliberate practice are:

1. Activity designed to improve your performance

What you do everyday at work is essential and draining because it requires mental focus. But designed to improve your performance – it’s not. After all, most of us don’t get paid to be better. We get paid to deliver.

2. Get a teacher’s help to design the the practice, much like a coach trains top Olympic athletes

Often we are not our own best teachers: we can’t see our own performance objectively to identify our strengths and weaknesses, and it’s possible we don’t know enough about a subject to know where to start. That’s where a trusted teacher, mentor, or coach can train you far more effectively than you can ever do on your own.

I realized how fortunate I am to be a trainer when I read this book: not only do I develop and teach classes specifically designed to improve my client’s performance, I also build training programs for myself. When I’m new to a technique or subject, I learn all I can about it. Then when I’m stuck, I hire a teacher who can help focus my efforts in a micro-targeted way and provide feedback.

3. You can repeat the practice – a lot

Before you ever can apply your newfound knowledge and skills, you need to be able to repeat them a lot so you can build competency and consistently improve upon your baseline performance. This is when there simply is no substitute for experience: getting in there, making mistakes, learning far more from your failures than your successes, and coming out the other side a much stronger professional.

4. Feedback is available on your performance continuously

Measuring your performance is critical, but if you’re not an expert, just exactly how do you improve on your weak areas? You’ll find a wide range of opinions, most of them in disagreement, so it can be quite confusing to know who to trust. This is where you rely on an expert who has proven themselves with facts, figures, credentials, and referrals.

In this year’s London Olympics I was struck by the fact that every single Olympic performer had a coach. After all, when you’re the best, who is qualified to train you? The superlative professionals who can break down your performance into smaller activities and evaluate your results on each, and tell you exactly how to improve. That coach, teacher, or mentor is designing your deliberate practice specifically around your goals, your performance, your strengths and weaknessess.

5. The practice is not much fun

There’s no getting around this one: putting in those hours is no party. The old adage “successful people do what others don’t want to” completely applies here. You’ve got to push yourself, fail often, and be resilient enough to not let any of your setbacks beat you. Keep focused on improving your performance with deliberate practice.

See More During Deliberate Practice

Masters of their domain (cue Jerry Seinfield jokes here) also develop a memory skill allowing them to tap into long-term memory associated with the essence of their activity. How?

Chunk Theory.  Masters assemble information into larger chunks, developing a larger vocabulary of information and the ability to access it more easily. For example, chess grandmasters can look at a board and at-a-glance, identify the offensive and defensive strategy of their opponent. An average player will see the same board and identify piece positions, but cannot analyze the deeper strategy behind them.

Just ask my son. I taught him to play chess, and he beats the pants off me any time we play now. He simply sees more strategic opportunities than I do.

The same thing occurs when I offer social media advice to a client: I can immediately see their opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, whereas they are often in the Panic Zone — overwhelmed and paralyzed.

Practice Individual Skills

When you practice with a coach or teacher, they can break down your performance into specific elements, each necessary to reach your goal. The teacher designs deliberate practice to improve each step. You measure yourself against the best, or against your previous performance, depending upon where you are in your journey.

For example, every business professional I’ve talked with wants more engagement on their Facebook page. While many articles offer specific ways to do that, only you know what works with your audience. How? By reviewing your Facebook Insights, ranking your posts with the most Reach, identifying why they were successful, and repeating those types of posts again to see if your success is repeatable.

Not much fun, huh? It’s not sexy, quick, or fun, but that’s what being a world class Facebook page takes.  It’s also what I’ll be teaching in the October bonus webinar!

Designing Your Own Deliberate Practice

You now know what it is, how to do it, that it will be tough, but how do you know if the practice is designed correctly? Here are some guidelines according to Colvin:

1. Know your goal

Be specific, have a SMART goal (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based). Increasing Facebook engagement isn’t a smart goal. Increasing Facebook engagement by 50% on your business page in the 4th quarter of 2012 is smart.

2. What’s the immediate next step?

Do you know enough about your chosen industry to know what your next step should be? While you don’t have to know everything, you do need to identify the next step that will help you reach your SMART goal. For our Facebook engagement example, the immediate next step is to go to your Facebook Insights and identify the posts with the highest and lowest reach. That alone won’t give you the entire picture, but it’s where you need to start.

3. Find a mentor

I cannot emphasize this step enough. In the digital age, people seem to think they can learn it all on their own with the free articles provided on blogs. In reality, most free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it. If the author could be making money from it, believe me, he would be. It’s free because he can’t get published any other way.

Find a mentor who has proven themselves and taught others successfully. Yes, you’re going to need to pay for their time and advice, and you should. Improving your performance is challenging, and you want to partner with someone who’s proven he or she can get you there.

4. Practice your skill

Once your mentor designs your deliberate practice, then you embark on your workouts. Mental or physical, they should be effortful, challenging, and focused. And ultimately, improve your performance. Olympic ice skaters who won medals practiced the jumps they weren’t good at, falling about 10,000 times on their butts. The other Olympic ice skaters practiced jumps they were already good at.

You’re going to fall on your butt often, but that’s a good thing. It means you’re learning.

5. Apply your skill

Once you’ve achieved a level of mastery, you’re ready to apply your skill in the real world and get true results. Because you’ve practiced so often and in a way that improved your performance, you’ll achieve a much higher level of success than those who don’t.

Jerry Rice practiced thousands of hours off the field to become one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. If he had relied only on his playing time to improve his skill, he never would have achieved such an outstanding career. A couple of hours performance time every week simply isn’t enough. His nickname, GOAT, Greatest of All Time, came from relentless deliberate practice.

Are you ready to be the GOAT of your industry?

While I can’t make you an outstanding salesperson or designer, I can make you a GOAT at Facebook Engagement. How? Register for any class here at, and I’ll outline the deliberate practice you’ll need to increase your Reach. And I’ll provide feedback in the Forum and the Virtual Office on Wednesdays.

Deliberate practice, a trusted mentor, and continuous feedback. All the elements you need to get Word Class engagement on your Facebook page.

So join me on Oct. 25 at 1pm ET, 5pm GMT, and partner with me: I’ll design deliberate practice you’ll need to increase your Facebook Engagement, get your posts seen by a wider audience, and get leads that convert into paying customers.



About the Author

Founder of, Benjamin Franklin award-winner for independent publishing, award winning author of eight books, wife, mom, quilter and watercolor artist.

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(1) comment

Mary Ellen Miller October 18, 2012

Outstanding blog post on what sounds like a fascinating book Maria. Reminds me a lot of Gladwell’s book that proved that overnight sensations had actually practiced 10,000 hours to get there!

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