In 2006, I read a highly interesting article by Geoffrey Colvin in Fortune magazine: What It Takes To Be Great. Colvin wrote: “Research now shows that natural talent is irrelevant to great success. The secret? Painful and demanding practice and hard work.”

Through the years I discussed this view with many clients. More and more people whom I encountered knew the notion that 10 years’ of deliberate practice is essential in any profession to move to the top.

Complementary approaches

In my post Your strengths I placed the emphasis on discovering one’s strengths, which is a mixture of talent, knowledge and experience.

I think the two views complement each other. It is possible to determine one’s strengths by doing what Marcus Buckingham suggests:  Make notes each day in a journal for one or two weeks on two pages under two headings what “you loved” and what “you loathed” doing. Analise your entries, and then proceed to restructure your work to do more of what you love doing. This will ensure that you will gladly put more energy into your work.

Note that a simple work content restructuring is just a start as it still will take hard work of the “deliberate practice” kind which Colvin described so well in two articles (Fortune of 30 October 2006 and of 27 October 2008) and also in his book Talent is Overrated.

Deliberate practice – five steps

In a nutshell, Colvin argues that it takes a certain mentality and commitment to become really proficient at anything. He offers the following five-step practice tip sheet:

  1. “Approach each critical task with an explicit goal of getting much better at it.
  2. As you do the task, focus on what’s happening and why you’re doing it the way you are.
  3. After the task, get feedback on your performance from multiple sources. Make changes to your behaviour as necessary.
  4. Continually build mental models of your situation – your industry, your company, your career. Enlarge the models to encompass more factors.
  5. Do these steps regularly, not sporadically. Occasional practice does not work.”

Anyone who is very good at their chosen profession will have experienced that having a job which unleashes passion invariably leads to extraordinary hard, dedicated work and to success. And success requires a thoughtful approach. Simply working hard is not smart.

Three questions

  • Would you not wish to define your talents or to reaffirm them?
  • Would you be interested in aligning your work more to your talents?
  • Are you prepared to develop the mindset which would make the application of the five steps a habit?

Olympic gold medal

You might not be interested in putting in the effort which produces an Olympic Gold medal. Just think, even gold medal winners probably only discovered, after having developed this type of mindset and after years of dedication and growth, that they are Olympic material. They gained much in the process.

Test both

What about testing both approaches – the talent and the deliberate practice approaches?

There is such a lot to gain!

What do you think?