I've been reading Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. The basic idea is that success is neither a function of genetic uniqueness nor hard-work. It is instead a function of taking the endowments one has, and refining one's craft through deliberate practice. The defining characteristic of the deliberative approach to practice are: (1) designed to specifically improve performance; (2) can be repeated; (3) provides continuous feedback; (4) is demanding mentally; and (5) is hard and pushes us continously beyond our comfort zone. Top performers are detail oriented and never satisfied.
My favoirte lines from the book are:
"Excellent performers judge themselves differently from the way other people do. They're more specific, just as they are when they set goals and strategies. ... The best performers judge themselves against a standard that's relevant for what they're trying to achieve. Sometimes they compare their performance with their own personal best; sometimes they compare with the performance of competitors they're facing or expect to face; sometimes they compare with the best known performance by anyone in the field. Any of those make sense; the key, as in all deliberate practice, is to choose a comparison that stretches you just beyond your current limits. ... If you were pushing yourself appropriately and have evaluated yourself rigorously, then you will have identified errors that you make. A critical part of self-evaluation is deciding what caused the errors. Average performers believe their errors were caused by factors outside their control. ... Top performers, by contrast, believe they are responsible for their errors."
World-class performers focus relentlessly on their own performance and take full responsiblity for errors and misteps. No external factors are sought for explanation of failure to meet goals.
And finally, what this all means is that "There is in fact a path leading from the state of our own abilities to that of the greats. The path is extremely long and demanding, only a few will follow it all the way to its end." This journey begins and ends with following the principles of deliberate practice.
Talent is Overrated is a quick read, but for those who want to explore the topic in more depth academically Colvin provides a 10 page annotated bibliography of his sources by chapter.
I hope all my students will take the time out to read this book.